22 dead or missing new toll in Belize as Hurricane Iris downgraded
The fatal victims of Iris were the occupants of a boat that sank off Big Crik port at Placentia in southeast Belize late Monday just before the hurricane touched down, a reporter at Stereo Amor radio station told AFP.
Belizean authorities have not confirmed the toll of missing and dead.
The boat sank shortly before the eye of Iris -- then a category four hurricane -- reached land.
An earlier report said the Wade Dancer, carrying 30 people, had lost five of its passengers. Aboard the Vendora, one person was killed after the boat set sail from the Big Crik port in the southern district of Independence, according to the report.
The National Emergency Management Organization NEMO said the hurricane tore down plantations and light structures. Around Monkey River, a tourist area, most homes -- made of flimsy materials -- were destroyed, and only the brick buildings, health and community center were left standing.
Meanwhile, Iris had turned into a tropical storm later Tuesday, becoming no more than a low pressure weather phenomenon after blowing into the Guatemala mountains.
The governments of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala discontinued their coastal warnings, according to the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center.
The strongest storm to hit the Caribbean this season, Iris arrived in Belize from the Dominican Republic, where it caused three deaths Monday.
But after causing damage over a 70-kilometer (43-mile) area, the storm had moved on.
By 6:00 am (1200 GMT) Tuesday, Iris had moved across Guatemala's border with Mexico to some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Comitan in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, according to Mexico's National Meteorological Service.
Winds had slowed to 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 85 kilometers (46 miles) per hour, the service said.
Mexico had evacuated fishing villages near the border with Belize, and ports were closed due to strong winds.
The US National Hurricane Center forecast continued weakening of the storm over Guatemala's mountainous territory and eastern Mexico during the course of the day.
About 5,000 Guatemalans were evacuated from their homes on the Caribbean coast.
Both Guatemala and Honduras were beset by power outages and downed phone lines as Iris brought rain storm surges of up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) above normal tide levels and massive waves battered the coasts.
Though storm-battered, Honduras escaped more lightly than in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch stormed the coasts and caused 5,657 deaths and more than six billion dollars in damages to Honduras alone.
The Atlantic hurricane season extends from June 1 to November 30. Hurricanes are rare outside those dates.
Copyright (c) 2001 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 10/09/2001 12:42:05
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