Tourists evacuated as hurricane makes landfall in Belize
BELIZE CITY — Hurricane Richard slammed into Belize’s Caribbean coast just south of its largest city late yesterday, as authorities evacuated tourists from islands and an estimated 10,000 people took refuge at shelters in the tiny Central American nation.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Richard’s top winds were 90 miles per hour when it made landfall about 20 miles south-southwest of Belize City, whose neighborhoods are full of wooden, tin-roof homes that are very vulnerable to winds.
“The winds are very strong . . . it’s getting stronger,’’ said Fanny Llanos, a clerk at the Lazy Iguana bed and Breakfast on Caye Caulker, a low-lying island known for its coral reefs and crystal-clear waters, located just offshore from Belize City.
Llanos said that palm trees were bending in the wind and it had become very noisy.
“All the windows are boarded, and this is a strong house so we will be here,’’ she said, “but we are still afraid.’’
Richard was moving west-northwest at about 10 miles per hour, and hurricane-force winds extended up to 15 miles from its center.
Belize City was devastated by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, prompting officials to move the capital inland to Belmopan. But Belize City is still the nation’s largest population center, with about 100,000 inhabitants, a third of the country’s population.
Officials estimated that about 10,000 people had taken refuge at storm shelters in schools and churches located farther inland, including many in Belmopan.
Tourists had been evacuated from Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, but some local residents decided to ride out the storm. Officials warned people living in flimsy homes or low-lying areas to evacuate, and shelters at schools and other public buildings began filling up.
The National Emergency Management Organization urged merchants not to raise prices for people who rushed to stores to stock up on basic necessities.