Belize hit with 40-million-dollar bill from Hurricane Iris

from Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published on 11 Oct 2001
Mexico City (dpa) - The tiny Central American nation of Belize on Thursday was still tallying the destruction dealt it by Hurricane Iris when the storm with 220-kilometre-per-hour winds struck earlier this week.

The death toll remained at 22, according to the Belize embassy in Mexico City, with 8 people reported missing in the southern Stann Creek district, which was heavily battered by Iris Monday night.

Embassy spokeswoman Abigail Waight said Iris had left 20,000 people homeless in the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo, areas populated primarily by indigenous people.

She said that despite the large destruction of Mayan Indian communities, damage to Mayan archaeological sites was minor.

Losses to Belize's banana, citrus, rice and other crops were estimated at 40 million U.S. dollars, Waight added. The storm also destroyed bridges, piers and restaurants in some tourist resorts and also strongly affected forest wildlife.

The dead from the storm included a group of U.S. tourists on a boat off the Caribbean port of Big Creek who failed to heed warnings from evacuation officers to come ashore, officials said.

A spokeswoman at the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diana Lock, said Wednesday that the tourists insisted they wanted to stay on their boat, Wave Dancer, because they ''wanted the thrill of a storm''.

She said an evacuation official in the region, Antonio Zabadeh, made three pleas to the boat passengers to come to shore, which they rejected.

Lock, who could not be reached Thursday, had said Wednesday that there were 28 people aboard the boat and 18 were confirmed dead, 8 survived and two were missing and feared dead.

On Thursday, an official at the Belize Ministry of Health, Rudy Avila, offered conflicting figures saying that 19 people from the Wave Dancer had drowned, two of them Belize citizens, and three U.S. citizens had survived.

One person from the boat was still missing and feared dead, Avila said.

Avila also said the U.S. citizens aboard Wave Dancer disregarded warnings to come to shore as Hurricane Iris approached.

''They were warned that a category 4 hurricane was coming,'' Avila said. ''They knew what a category 4 hurricane was. A Good Samaritan, Tony Zebedeh, called them several times - told them they could stay at his house.''

Antonio Zebedeh, who is a village council chairman at Independence, near Big Creek, was one of the main people in charge of the evacuation Monday, Belize Foreign Ministry officials said.

Iris also killed three people in the Dominican Republic Saturday, and two people each in Guatemala and Mexico.

dpa am ls

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 10/11/2001 17:04:55

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