First Evaluation of Effects of Hurricane Iris

Originally published

National Emergency Management Organization Damage Assessment Sub-Committee


This evaluation is based on reports from over flights combined with baseline data, particularly population census data in the case of the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts.

The most complete aspect of the report is the estimate of population affected by the direct impact of the storm, and the description of the effects on the biodiversity which will impact on the ability of the residents in the affected areas, particularly the indigenous communities, to rebuild, given the extent of destruction to the forest resources.

A second report including more details of the description of the storm and estimate of damages is forthcoming.

Population Affected

Hurricane Iris caused extensive damages in southern Belize and affected a significant portion of the communities in the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts. Of the 19,880 persons affected by the storm 11,721 and 8,159 were from the Toledo and Stann Creek District, respectively.

Table 1

Preliminary Estimate of Number of People Affected by Direct Impact of Hurricane Iris

% Of Affected Homes
Stann Creek

Given the intensity of the hurricane, it was significant that the number of casualties was very small as at least 7,000 persons were evacuated from several low lying and coastal communities including Belize City, Dangriga Town and the Cayes.

Table 2

Population of Villages in the Toledo District Affected by the Impact of Hurricane Iris

*Percentage of Houses Damaged
1 Aguacate
2 Big Falls
3 Blue Creek
4 Crique Jute
5 Dump
6 Eldridge
7 Forest Home
8 Golden Stream
9 Hickette
10 Indian Creek
11 Jalacte
12 Jordan
13 Mafredi
14 Medina Bank
15 Monkey River
16 Pueblo Viejo
17 Punta Negra
18 San Antonio
19 San Jose
20 San Marcos
21 San Miguel
22 San Pedro Colombia
23 San Vicente
24 Santa Cruz
25 Santa Elena
26 Santa Teresa
27 Silver Creek
* These percentages are "on-the-ground" estimates

Table 3

Population of Villages in the Stann Creek District Affected by the Impact of Hurricane Iris

1 Georgetown
2 Hopkins
3 Mullins River
4 Placencia
5 Red Bank
6 Independence
7 Riversdale
8 San Juan Busco (Cowpen)
9 Seine Bight/Maya Beach
10 Sittee River
11 South Stann Creek



This rapid appraisal of damages to the agriculture sector was done after flying over the Stann Creek and Toledo districts on Tuesday, 9 th October 2001. This flight is being followed by field checks by extension officers in the two districts. To a large extent damages to the agricultural sector has been due to the strength of the wind and not so much from heavy rainfall or flooding. Losses in the district has been exacerbated by the susceptibility of bananas, a major export commodity in South Stann Creek and Northern Toledo, and by the fact that the harvesting of corn and rice, two important staple commodities produced in the Toledo district, had just begun. Over 5,000 acres of bananas, over 3,500 acres of rice, over 3,000 acres of corn, all stored corn, over 500 acres of cacao, some citrus and all plantains, 35 acres of hot peppers and all the root crops and vegetables in the affected villages, have been destroyed. Losses in cattle appear to be minimal but significant losses in small stock such as local chickens, sheep and pigs are expected. Finally, shrimp farms mostly those near Placencia and Independence suffered from seepage of contaminated water that may cause damages of up to 25 % of their production. A more accurate assessment of the damages is not available as yet, but estimates are in the vicinity of $ 75-80 million, inclusive of $ 50 million in bananas, $ 10 million in shrimp, $ 15 - 20 million in rice, corn, mango, fruit trees and other crops and livestock. These losses are estimates of the impact on the agricultural economy of Belize.


The preliminary findings of the rapid assessment conducted on the road network in the two Southern Districts revealed the fallowing:

Stann Creek District

Village Roads which have deteriorated as a result of loss of surfacing material due to the flooding.

Gales Point Village Road.
Mullins River Village Road.
Placencia Village Road.
Manatee Road.
Red Bank Village Road.
Hopkins Village Road.
Hopkins - Sittee Road.

Village Streets which have deteriorated as a result of loss of surfacing material due to the flooding.

Hopkins Village Streets.
Placencia Village Streets.
Seine Bight Village Streets.
Indian/Mango Creek Village Streets.
San Juan Village Streets.
Bella Vista Village Streets.

Dangriga Pier, has sustained about 50% structural damage.

Toledo District

The assessment revealed that the village roads in Toledo District were mainly affected by trees falling across the roads obstructing access and to a lesser extent the loss of surfacing material due to the flooding.

Village Roads

Monkey River Road.
San Pablo Road.
Trio Road.
Boom Creek Village Road.
San Antonio - Jalacte Road.
San Jose Road.
Blue Creek Road.
Aguacate Road.
San Vicente Road.
Columbia/San Miguel Road.
Barranco Village Road.
Southern Highway (Big Falls to Bladen Bridge)

The assessment indicated that 15% of the length of this section has suffered from loss of surfacing material resulting in deterioration of the riding quality. The section between Dump and Big Falls also required addressing the Power Poles which were leaning heavily towards the Highway.

Barranco Pier.

60% of the Pier was damaged including the approaches.

Cost Breakdown

Highway Rehabilitation
Feeder Roads
Debris Clean-up
Culvert Replacement
Village Streets Rehabilitation
Marine Piers
Town Streets


It is estimated that upwards of ninety percent of the tourist accommodation facilities on the Placencia Peninsula, which includes Seine Bight, Maya Beach and Placencia were significantly damaged by the storm. In addition, there was almost total destruction of bridges, piers and dive shops on the peninsula, which serviced these facilities. Damage was also registered in Hopkins and Sittee River Villages.

A large number of sport fishing and dive vessels were battered and beached by the storm surge. Restaurants and gift shops which catered primarily to the tourist visitors were also either severely damaged or completely destroyed.

On the mainland, the extensive damage to the forests and wildlife, and the disruption of everyday life of the Mayan communities will reduce the attractiveness of the area as a premier eco-tourism destination. In addition, it is reported that the Mayan archaeological sites in the area sustained minor damage from the storm.


Stann Creek

This assessment covers settlements from Dangriga Town to Cowpen. Buildings in these areas are predominantly of the timber type. There is also a moderate amount of concrete and mixed structures.

In areas such as Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight and Placencia thatched roof structures are also common as a result of the growing Eco - tourism industry.

There were no visible signs of structural damage from Dangriga to Silk Grass. Low to moderate levels of damage was visible from Hopkins to Riversdale. Damage was mainly to thatched structures and were roof related (some properties were also flooded). Estimates are as follows:

  • Hopkins: 25%
  • Riversdale: Minimal damage to farm buildings
  • South Stann Creek: Minimal damage

The worst hit areas in this district were Placencia, Independence, Seine Bight, Big Creek and Cowpen. Small settlements along rivers and creeks were also affected by flooding. There were significant amounts of both roof related and complete structural damage to buildings. Overall structural damage to the area is estimated at 60 - 65%. Total damage is estimated 85 - 90% as follows:
  • Placencia: 80 - 85%
  • Independence: 90 - 95%
  • Big Creek: 75 - 80%

Structural damage to the port facilities seemed low.

Toledo District

The buildings in this district are mainly of thatched type and suffered almost complete structural damage. However settlements to the extreme south of the country appeared to have been spared of the onslaught of the hurricane. These include:

  • Punta Gorda Town
  • Baranco
  • Crique Sarco
  • San Lucas
  • Santa Theresa

The aerial reconnaissance observations showed other settlements in the area experienced levels of damage ranging from 20 - 90% as follows:
  • Buena Vista: 70 - 75 %
  • Monkey River: 95 - 98% (complete structural damage)
  • Sapodilla Cayes: 25 - 30%
  • Aguacate: 20 - 25%
  • Blue Creek: 35 - 40%
  • San Antonio: 45 - 50%
  • San Jose: 65 - 70%
  • Mafredi: 85 - 90%
  • Big Falls: 60 - 65% (including damage to about four Belize Marketing Board silos)
  • Silver Creek: 65 - 70%
  • Indian Creek: 65 - 70%

It must also be noted that throughout this entire area there were several smaller settlements (not identified), which were almost totally destroyed.



The Southern Coastal Plain of Belize is a wave cut platform overlain by marine deposits. The surface of the plain is generally flat, and close to the sea level has a belt of beach lines, lagoons and swamps. Inland it undulates gently and is cut by the shallow valleys of the rivers originating in the Maya Mountains to the West.

The vegetation of the Southern Coastal Plain is characterized as lowland broadleaf forest and shrubs, savannahs with pine and without pine, dense pine forests, wetlands and littoral and mangrove forests. The area of the southern coastal plains most heavily impacted is a southerly slanted corridor between Seine Bight Village and the Swasey Branch.

Included in this corridor are several protected areas, which include several forest reserves, nature reserves, national parks and marine reserves.


A preliminary assessment of hurricane damage to forest and coastal ecosystems was carried out by aerial reconnaissance. Flying along the coast, damage to the forest structure became evident to the south of the Riversdale Road where clumps of standing trees showed evidence of wind caused defoliation and wind burn. This condition was also observed in mangrove and other littoral vegetation along the seaward side and along the lagoon edge of the Placencia Peninsula. The damage became more pronounced to the south of Seine Bight as evidence by uprooted trees, and trees with broken crowns and branches. Mangrove vegetation on the leeward side of the peninsula bordering the Placencia Lagoon and extending into the wetlands to the west of the lagoon showed signs of extensive disturbance as evidenced by broken crowns and wind caused defoliation. The severity of damage became more pronounced as we progressed to the Southern tip of the peninsula and the village of Gales Point, which was totally devastated.

Marine conditions along the windward side of the peninsula indicated that the seabed had been severely disturbed as evidenced by the turbidity of the water and floating remains of sea-grass. Beach erosion along the most affected areas of the peninsula attest to the scouring effect of the storm surge on the seabed. It is estimated that the effect of the storm on the seabed may have extended from half-a-mile to one mile from the coast.

The flight path inland and to the west of the Placencia Peninsula provided an overview of pine forest savannah with scattered uprooted trees and standing trees with their crowns blown off or severely damaged by the hurricane winds. In most areas damage could be described a moderate (roughly 25%) but in smaller patches wind-thrown or crown damaged trees is estimated at 40%.

Damage to littoral forest continued to increase in severity as the flight path progressed to Monkey River Village where very severe infrastructural damage was observed. As the flight line looped around Monkey river village and then continued further South, it became evident that, utilizing the Swasey Branch of the Monkey River as a northern reference point, about 95% of the broadleaf forest had been destroyed. (It would appear that the scattered pine stands have been able to survive for the most part the hurricane force winds although with some damage.) Most of the broadleaf trees have been wind-thrown and the few remaining have been pollarded and completely stripped of foliage. In some patches the pattern of destruction seem to indicate the effect of tornado like wind forces.

The flight line continued in a southwesterly direction and looped around the villages of Indian Creek, San Miguel, San Pedro Columbia, and San Antonio and Big Falls.

Following this flight line and as far as the eye could see the pattern of forest destruction was almost the same everywhere. Almost all of the forest had been flattened. Very few standing trees with crown were observed. Unfortunately, it was not possible to continue further west into the Columbia River Forest Reserve where the topography is more mountainous with higher elevations. A reconnaissance to assess damage further to the west and south is recommended.

SITE VISIT OBSERVATIONS (Placencia / Independence)

From observations made while driving along the Southern Highway, the banana plantations near Mayan King suffered some damage (20%), but for those that remained standing had their leaves totally shredded.

While traveling towards the peninsula, wind-thrown trees could be seen more significantly from about one-half mile from Riversdale Village. Most of the damage in the Riversdale area was structural damage to buildings with quite a number of trees knocked down along the coast and inland. The beach in this area was more-or-less the same, with some build-up of the beach ridge occurring.

The road for the most part was in good condition except for a few areas where it was inundated under a couple inches of water. In one particular area (which was always of concern) the shoulder of the road and a few feet of the road was eroded.

All along the peninsula, most of the trees/vegetation had been destroyed, especially within the villages of Seine Bight and Placencia. In was noted that erosion occurred mainly on the lagoon side of the peninsula and there were few localized spots that had been scoured. A high sandy ridge had developed on the eastern side of the peninsula.

The Shell Service Station had a small spill of diesel fuel (fuel that remained in the fuel lines), but was being dealt with by a Shell representative.

The entire peninsula, from the east coast to the lagoon’s edge and even within the lagoon was littered with debris and house parts.

Of environmental concern are the following:

1. Broken and inundated septic systems.
2. LPG tanks seen scattered within the bushes and within rubbles.
3. Water becoming contaminated with faecal coliform.
4. Pools of stagnant water noted, especially within Placencia Village.
5. Further erosion of the western edge of the peninsula.

The Independence, Big Creek and Mango Creek area, suffered similar damages like the Placencia Peninsula but there were no major environmental concerns except for that of the Sigatoka Control Station, which had various environmentally hazardous chemicals stored at the station. Although the warehouse was completely destroyed, only a few containers were knocked over and about one gallon of pesticide was spilled.



The Environmental Impacts of immediate concerns are those associated with the contamination of surface and ground waters in the coastal and inland areas that have been subject to flooding. Chemical contamination of these water resources was greatly reduced primarily as a result of the District Environment Committees, which had ensured that chemicals in previously identified High Risk Areas were properly secured. This was evident as in the case of BGA’s Sigatoka control station where even though the warehouse had been blown down, the chemicals in the tightly sealed containers remained intact. The SHELL service station in Placencia had leaked some of its fuel, mainly diesel into the surrounding area.

Any chemical contamination of the surface waters would have resulted primarily from agricultural runoffs. However, it is believed that because of the tremendous volumes of water flowing through these areas, that any chemical contained in the agriculture runoff, may have been greatly diluted to levels that may be "undetectable" and which may pose little or no significant risk to Public Health.

Contamination with fecal coliform is the parameter of greatest immediate concern to the Environment and Public Health. This bacterial contamination is primarily from the inundation and destruction of septic tanks and pit latrines in the affected areas.

The recreational and other domestic use of these contaminated waters should be avoided as much as possible and where the use of these waters for domestic purposes is inevitable, then it must be properly boiled or treated with household chlorine.

Solid waste disposal of the affected area in particular the coastal communities such as Placencia, Seine Bight, Independence and Monkey River town and affected areas will need to be given priority consideration. Carcasses of dead animals must be burnt or buried immediately.

As an immediate short-term solution, portable toilets should be provided to the coastal communities to ensure the proper disposal of human waste. In the instance of the inland communities Pit Latrines should be constructed and reconstructed in areas where they were once in existence. The Public health Bureau should ensure that these Pit Latrines are properly sited.

In the Placencia Peninsula, organic materials from fallen trees, branches, building materials and sea-grass should be separated from the other types of wastes and disposed of at a separate location from other wastes at the disposal sites. Some of the inert construction materials could be used to backfill-eroded areas.


The most heavily impacted natural resources of the area appear to be the coastal vegetation and inland forest. Important to note is that these impacts appear to be more pronounced in the instance of the riparian vegetation bordering rivers and the coastline. These impacts will be far reaching in particular the inland broadleaf forest, which has been completely razed to the ground. These impacts will result in a sustained lost of the environmental and economic services once rendered by these forest such logging, watershed protection, wildlife habitat, tourism attraction, erosion prevention, carbon sequestration, traditional medical values, etc. It most be born in mind that the broadleaf forest which was more heavily impacted, would require decades for it to be restored to previous conditions.

The lost of these forest resources traditionally used by the inland communities could exacerbate the pressures on the remaining stands of forest, which mainly lie in protected areas. The traditional use of bay leaf as thatch roofing for their homes may cause the migration of some of these communities or members of these communities closer to the source of these resources.

Wildlife in the impacted forest zone will also migrate out of the area into more wooded areas. The larger wildlife species such as the jaguars and other predators, which tend to occupy large territories could experience overcrowding, with perhaps the weaker ones being pushed into the farmland and other inhabited areas.


The impacts of hurricane Iris to the coastal and marine resources appear to be minimal to those caused by hurricane Keith last year. There were few areas where localized erosion had occurred along the Placencia peninsula and southern coast.

In the Placencia Peninsula erosion had been localized mainly in areas where channeling was facilitated by mangrove clearing in the leeward side of the peninsula facing the lagoon. In one area the erosion was so very pronounced with sections of the existing road being washed away. In other areas scouring by the tidal surge had left behind pools of stagnant water in these newly formed low-lying areas.

The beach in Placencia was filled with the putrid smell of rotting marine life, which had been washed ashore. It would appear that erosion was greater on the leeward side. Erosion in the Monkey River area could be expected to be much greater, because of the existing vulnerability of these areas to these forces. The Environment Committee will be receiving more in-depth report on the impacts of hurricane Iris on the coastal resources by the end of the week.

It would appear that impacts or damage to the reef ecosystem would have resulted primarily from the mechanical forces of the storm surge and wave action, as the silt/sediment plume was concentrated just off mainland. Within these turbid waters small patches of uprooted sea-grass was observed, but nothing to the magnitude as observed for Keith.


1. The immediate concerns for the affected areas are those associated with water contamination and the need for appropriate disposal of human waste and solid wastes (debris). Carcasses of wildlife, pets and livestock must be immediately burnt or properly buried. As an immediate short-term solution, portable toilets should be provided to the coastal communities to ensure the proper disposal of human waste. In the instance of the inland communities, Pit Latrines should be constructed and reconstructed in areas where they were once in existence. The Public health Bureau should ensure that these Pit Latrines are properly sited.

2. In the Placencia Peninsula, organic materials from fallen trees, branches, building materials and sea-grass should be separated from the other types of wastes and disposed of at a separate location from other wastes at the disposal sites. Some of the inert construction materials could be used to backfill-eroded areas.

3. Special attention should be given to reducing the risks of outbreaks of environmental diseases such as cholera, hepatitis and gastro intestinal diseases. The Ministry of Health should increase its vector control programmes in these areas and those experiencing flooding. The pooling of stagnant water is to be expected after the floods recede. Measures should be taken to ensure that the impact of these as breeding grounds, for vectors, be minimized.

4. The Department of the Environment and the Public Health Bureau should continue to monitor the waters around these affected areas. Special emphasis must be placed on sources of drinking water, and in the case of the coastal areas, the recreational waters.

5. Announcements should continue to be aired for people to avoid using waters in the affected areas for domestic and recreational purposes. Water for drinking purposes must be boiled or properly treated with chlorine.

6. The affected areas would need to organize clean-up campaigns to remove garbage and debris strewn in private properties and empty lots. Perhaps the chipping machines recently acquired for San Pedro and Caye caulker could be loaned to the Placencia peninsula Communities.

7. This experience has helped to remind us of the importance of observing the 66 feet reserve (vegetation and mangroves) along all permanent water bodies. Since this legal requirement has constantly been breached, the Governmental agencies responsible for its implementation and enforcement should pursue its implementation more vigorously. This would help in preventing the loss of property and the loss of revenue during and after storm events. Vegetation cover acts as coastal protection measure and as a filtering system against sediment and pollution being transported by rivers. Plants act as sinks for pollutants along water bodies.

8. Since the flight path taken did not provide coverage of the reef, it was not possible to assess reef damage. However, it is recommended that a further assessment of marine damage is carried which should include the reef and other related marine ecosystems.

9. The destruction of forest resources around villages that traditionally have utilized building materials from these forests will unfortunately exacerbate the already precarious situation, which the affected villages are in. The negative long-term effect on the timber industry will also be very significant. The Environment Committee of NEMO recommends that the Forest Department consider waivering its prohibition on the use of chainsaws for lumber to allow for these communities to utilize the fallen timber for the construction and reconstruction of their homes. In addition a salvage program will need to be developed to remove the fire hazard presented by the timber fuel now left lying in the impacted zone. Mitigation measures for the prevention of erosion and the contamination of rivers and creeks will have to be given utmost consideration in this programme. NEMO will be provided with a more detailed assessment report as soon as information from the other members of the Environment Committee is submitted, and the results of our Monitoring Programme are available.


Immediate needs of the affected area include emergency supplies of food, clothing, shelter, potable water electrical power has been disrupted and in addition a curfew has been imposed to facilitate security in the area. At the local level temporary health posts have been established and collective efforts are directed at providing food and water supplies from temporary centers to the affected population.

The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has placed high priority on relief supplies efforts.

List of Sources

Ministry of Natural Resources, the Environment and Industry
Ministry of Tourism
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development
Development Finance Corporation
Ministry of Works, Transport Citrus and Bananas
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries