Recovering after Hurricane Iris hits Belize

Published: 11 October 2001 0:00 CET

Cristina Estrada in Belize

Thousands of people left homeless after Hurricane Iris - a category 4 hurricane with winds reaching 225 km/hr, devastated the southern coast of Belize, on the evening of October 8, are now facing the grim task of reconstructing their lives.

As many as twenty people are either dead or missing, some 13,000 homeless and many crops destroyed, the Belize Red Cross announced today. Iris roared ashore between Independence and Monkey River Town, south-west of Belize City, and caused extensive damage.

"In some areas, more than 90% of the buildings have been severely damaged or destroyed. Schools and community centres have also suffered extensive damage", said Audrey Courtenay, Disaster Relief Co-ordinator for the Belize Red Cross Society. A joint Belize Red Cross/Federation relief team made an airborne and ground reconnaissance of the affected area on October 10, to assess the immediate needs of the population. "All the crops - rice, cacao, coffee, banana, corn and papaya - have been destroyed, and so have most food stocks", explained Fidel Peña, a Federation delegate and member of the assessment team.

The hurricane also destroyed electricity lines, disrupting pump-delivered water supplies and posing a health threat. Since it is still the rainy season in southern Belize, the priorities are emergency shelter, food, and non-food relief items, such as blankets and hygienic articles.
An appeal is currently being prepared by the International Federation to assist 5,600 of the worst-affected people in Toledo District through the next three months. Meanwhile, the first delivery of Red Cross relief goods donated by the Corozal and Orange branches, is expected to arrive in the devastated coastal village of Seine Bight on October 11.

Other international organisations such as the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), are co-ordinating the operation in the field with the Belize Red Cross and with NEMO, the National Emergency Organisation.
Hurricane Iris also hit the northern departments of Petén and Izabal in Guatemala, forcing thousands of people to flee to higher ground and damaging hundreds of homes. The Guatemala Red Cross helped evacuate people to shelters and has carried out needs assessments. Fortunately, people were able to return home.

The havoc caused by Iris comes just one year after Hurricane Keith killed 15 people in Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua and caused an estimated $200 million in damage to Belize's economy.