BELIZE CITY, Belize – Hurricane Richard slammed into Belize’s Caribbean coast just south of its largest city late Sunday, as authorities evacuated tourists from outlying islands and an estimated 10,000 people took refuge at shelters in the tiny Central American nation.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Richard’s top winds were 90 mph – making it a Category 1 hurricane – 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.
“All the windows are boarded, and this is a strong house so we will be here,” she said, “but we are still afraid.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths in Belize, but roads and some low-lying neighborhoods were flooded and some trees were toppled.
The hurricane center said Richard was moving west-northwest over central Belize late Sunday at about 9 mph. It was expected to weaken as it headed over northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico today.
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.
Official estimated that about 10,000 had taken refuge at storm shelters in schools and churches farther inland. Tourists had already been evacuated from Caye Caulker and nearby Ambergris Caye, but some local residents decided to ride out the storm.