The Ambassador of Belize today updated the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council on the damage left by Hurricane Iris, declaring 22 deaths confirmed and eight individuals still listed as missing. Losses in the agriculture sector have been put at US$103 million, and tourism has been set back to the tune of $37 million, representing about 20 per cent of the total number of hotel rooms in Belize.
"For the people of southern Belize, this was a mercifully brief but terrible experience," Ambassador Lisa Shoman told her colleague ambassadors from the Americas. She said some 13,000 people had been left homeless in 38 of Belize's southern towns and villages. More than 3200 homes were destroyed by the hurricane, with reports of extensive damage ranging from 95 per cent on the coast to 70 to 80 per cent inland.
"Essentially, Iris cut a 30- to 45-mile swath through the heart of southern Belize, from the coast all the way to the western border in an eight- to nine-hour period, with the full force of 165 mile-per-hour winds," the Ambassador told the Permanent Council.
Armed with visual aid to enhance her presentation, she showed photographs of infrastructure damage, including houses that had been hit. She also gave a detailed account of preparations for the hurricane, including evacuation procedures, and reconstruction efforts since the October 8 storm.
She said the estimated loss in agriculture represents 95 per cent total banana crop-accounting for some 5,500 acres of bananas. Preliminary estimates also put aquaculture and marine fishery losses at 20 per cent, in addition to losses in citrus and important root crops and vegetables. There were huge losses as well in the country's livestock industry, underscoring a grave food supply problem. The estimated loss to the tourism sector does not take into account the many eco-tourism village destinations in the Mayan villages, a fast growing sector of the country's tourist industry, according to the Belizean diplomat.
Ambassador Shoman, who yesterday received an aid package compliments of the OAS and the Pan American Development Foundation, also noted the significant damage to infrastructure, to the tune of $25 million in damaged highways, bridges, piers and electricity. In addition, the rainforest in the path of the hurricane was severely damaged, the Belize Ambassador explained to the meeting, which was chaired by Dominica's Ambassador to the OAS, Swinburne Lestrade.