In late October of 1998 a hurricane formed off the coast of Panama and started heading north. The storm was named Mitch, and was following a normal course for that time of the year, and was expected to veer to the NW and possibly hit the northern Yucatan and maybe Cuba. However, when it reached a latitude approximately level with Belize and about 400 miles to the east, it suddenly stalled out and started to intensify. A high pressure system to its north had blocked its path, and it slowly started to move to the west, directly at Belize. Since it was moving so slowly and over very warm waters, it grew to a Category 5 hurricane in a few days, with wind gusts of 220 mph. A storm of this magnitude levels all structures, trees, etc, and is accompanied by huge amounts or rainfall. Things were looking very dire for Belize, if a Cat 5 storm ever hit the country it would be destroyed, taking decades to recover.

We at Slickrock were very nervous, of course, because we had just moved to Long Caye at Glovers Reef, and we knew a storm like this would wipe out the island, maybe permanently. We watched the hourly reports as they came in, reporting on the storms progress. Meanwhile the intense winds and the fact that the storm was moving so slowly created huge seas, which moved towards Belize and the surrounding areas. Every guest who had ever stayed with us, and every sister, brother, parent, and cousin we had called. As the days progressed the high pressure continued to push the storm off track, and as it slowly moved towards Belize it also took on a southerly track, which caused it to slam into Honduras before it hit Belize. When it came ashore in Honduras, it leveled some nearby islands, took out uncounted structures on the mainland, and dumped up to four feet of rain in the mountains which caused huge floods. Over 11,000 people were killed.

Meanwhile, the huge waves spawned by this storm devastated to outlying reaches of Belize, including the islands at Glovers Reef and the islands along the Barrier Reef. Several islands were erased, including a small island and house right next to Long Caye. The waves were up to 30’ high, and broke on the reef in front of our island. The outwash flowed right over the island, and although the palm trees survived, we lost 4 buildings, two docks, and some palapas to the water. Around 40’ of the front side of the island was washed away, and about 50’ of new sand and rubble was deposited on the lee side, so things were shifted around and we didn’t actually lose too much land area. However, the entire island was covered with debris that had washed up. We had to build a new kitchen and several cabins, repair docks and palapas, and clear the rubble and other debris off every square foot of the island. The whole process took three months. However, we were lucky we didn’t experience any significant winds, which would have leveled everything.

Such are the risks of inhabiting a small island in the Caribbean. We still have to sweat it out every fall during hurricane season, hoping another mega-storm like Mitch does not form up and take aim at Belize!

Long Caye at Glover's Reef in 1992
Long Caye before Hurricane Mitch
Long Caye in 2006
Long Caye after Hurricane Mitch

We have had 2 hurricane scares this hurricane season, and both have left us fairly unscathed, much to our relief. When you own an island resort in the Caribbean, you don’t look forward to hurricane season. Each July we start to get nervous, and don’t feel completely relaxed until November 1, when I proclaim hurricane season officially “over”. Only 4 more days to go!

Tropical storm Matthew passed very near our island on September 25, with sustained winds of 40 miles an hour. The most profound change was to the small sand bar just off our caye. Past guests will remember this sand bar because we conduct snorkel orientation just off this small bit of land. Well, this sand bar is no more! Damage during that storm also included damage to our surf dock, damage to the foundation on 2 cabanas which need to be re-cemented, and sand moved around and lots of seaweed washed up on the beach.

Hurricane Richard passed on a similar track, within 50 miles of our island, on October 24. This Category 1 storm had sustained winds of 75 mph. We were very surprised to learn that the damage from this storm was not as bad as the damage Matthew caused. In one instance we actually gained beach by cabana #6 that has been gone since 1998!

Our kayak beach by the sea kayak palapa lost a lot of sand with Matthew, as the storm surge washed away a lot of the beach, exposing roots. Richard put the sand back! (see photos.)

I will be posting other before/after shots over the next few days.

Belize beach before 2010 hurricane seasonSlickrock's kayak beach after MatthewLong Caye kayak beach after Hurricane Richard in 2010

Hurricane Richard hit central Belize yesterday afternoon as a Category 1 storm, making landfall about 20 miles south of Belize City with 90 mph winds. The strongest winds were confined to a 30 mile radius from the storm’s center, so very few areas sustained damage according to preliminary reports.

We are happy to report that everyone we know in Belize is fine. Our island base at Glover’s Reef was evacuated on Saturday, and since the storm passed 40-50 miles north of there we know from past storm experience that the island probably did not receive much in the way of wind damage, but a storm surge and high surf probably eroded a little more of the east side of the island and damaged our docks. Our friends at the dive shop will be going back out today and we’ll know more details soon.

In contrast, on October 28, 1998, Hurricane Mitch arrived near the Bay Islands of Honduras and ultimately eroded at least 50 feet of our shore. This Category 5 storm sat and churned over Guanaja for 4 days, sending huge waves our way. Although it never hit Belize, the force of this large, sustained surf (2 full days) did great damage to the islands at Glover’s Reef. We were able to clean up and open on time that season by hiring 30 men who worked at a frenetic pace for 5 weeks!

We will be posting updates as we receive them, stay tuned!