…you sure have a chance to improve things. I’ve been going through old photos and just found this picture of our dining hall, circa 1992 or so. Hurricane Mitch took it and the land it was standing on in 1998. The surf board that was in the rafters surfaced on our shore about two years later, uncovered by the wave action.
I was unable to find a picture of our current dining hall from the same angle (looking out from the cook’s area) but this one I took last March gives you a good idea of how much it has improved. We inherited the old dining hall from the previous owners, we never did like the way they built it, and at least the hurricane gave us a chance to start over completely.
When you have an island in Belize, you watch hurricanes, believe me. Hurricane season has started for this year, but it’s been mild so far [KNOCK ON WOOD].
I just found some old images, and found one pre-Hurricane Mitch (1998) when our hammock palapa used to be out by our surf dock. Trying to find an image that matches is difficult, but I found 2 views from inside our old dining hall and from inside our current dining hall.
Check out these two photos of the point of our island in Belize. We just came across an old shot taken from our third year on Long Caye, in 1999. This was the first year after Hurricane Mitch swept over the island with 30’ waves (but no wind), knocking down four of our buildings and carving 40’ off the front side of the island. The storm then deposited the rubble and sand into a new peninsula, where we built a palapa and set up our windsurf trainer. We had not yet planted any palm trees on this new area, so it is bare of vegetation as you can see.
Thirteen years later, the peninsula is thriving with new trees we planted, and our kayak palapa is still there (although it has gone through four new thatch roofs since it was constructed). The trees grow fast with a year-round growing season, and now the whole area is nicely shaded. These trees will continue to grow until they are 40’ tall, and hopefully they will help anchor the sand so that further storm waves will not wash it all away!
In late October of 1998 Hurricane Mitch sat out in the middle of the Bay of Honduras and churned for almost a week. Cully and I were in Moab, watching it on the internet in horror.
This storm acted in ways storms don’t usually act, and at the time it was the 5th largest storm on record. Because we were far from the storm (about 100-125 miles), but there were no obstacles between us and it, huge waves built up and slammed into our island over a period of several days. For a period of 9 days we didn’t know if we had an island in Belize anymore or not.
As the days progressed we started to hear of a lost ship. We were so consumed with our own worries (and subsequent relief that we did, indeed, survive this storm) that we didn’t think much about that ship at the time. Years later I learned of the book, The Ship and the Storm by Jim Carrier. What a page turner! I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to those who are contemplating a visit to our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef.
This book explores the story of the Fantome and Hurricane Mitch from every angle. From the deck of the ship, to the research planes flying into the eye of the hurricane, to islanders and coastal villagers in nearby Honduras, The Ship and the Storm is the horrifying story of the most destructive hurricane in Western Hemisphere history.
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!