Hurricane Keith Rips Into Belize
BELIZE CITY (AP) _ Keith was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm late Monday, but its 65 mph winds still toppled homes, ripped the roofs off hotels and caused flooding throughout Belize as it swirled just off the country’s Caribbean coast.
Flooding associated with Keith caused three deaths elsewhere in Central America and at least one in Mexico, but the worst damage came in Belize, where streets were flooded with more than a dozen inches of rain that had fallen since Sunday.
No deaths or injuries were reported in Belize. But a Red Cross official said reports over a cellular phone indicated considerable damage on the storm-ravaged island of Ambergris Cay, which lies roughly in the storm’s path about 12 miles off Belize’s coast.
``In two hotels, the roofs were torn off and the people had to run for shelter,″ said William Skeen, director of the Red Cross in Belize City. ``They are in a serious situation out there.″
More than 200 Belize citizens sought refuge in neighboring Guatemala on Monday. They were allowed into the country under emergency visas.
Monday evening, Keith was located about 30 miles east-northeast of Belize City and was moving north-northwest at 2 mph. Forecasters expected the storm to continue weakening as it moved over northern Belize and into Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula during the next few days.
The storm, which was born Friday in the Caribbean off Honduras and which peaked as a category-three hurricane Sunday, punished the region throughout the day Monday.
On Caye Caulker, a slip of land 10 miles south of Ambergris, local radio stations reported that 40 wooden homes had blown over. Radio stations also featured a constant stream of reports of roofs blown off in Belize City.
Residents of Belize’s capital _ bent over in raincoats, their umbrellas flipped inside-out _ pushed bicycles through knee-deep water and battled the raging winds and horizontal sheets of rain.
``Everything is wet and the food’s run out. I just want this to pass,″ said Lorna Wade, 30, her dress plastered to her body as she headed from her flooded house to a shelter.
The hurricane blew water from bays and shallow coasts on Sunday, allowing people to walk across exposed seabed. The National Hurricane Center in Miami warned of ``a potentially life-threatening situation″ if the sea suddenly rushed back in suddenly.
About 4,000 people were evacuated in the nearby Mexican city of Chetumal over the weekend, and rain-swollen rivers killed a boy in Nicaragua and a man in El Salvador. A woman in Honduras drowned Monday when a wall of water rushed into her home. Rain associated with the hurricane also caused flooding in Mexico’s Gulf coast of Tabasco, where one person drowned.
But the worst damage was in Belize, an English-speaking country of about 200,000 people known for its pristine beaches and Mayan ruins.
The U.S. government issued a travel warning to Americans in Belize because of extensive flooding. U.S. government employees in non-emergency jobs were moved out.
On its Web site, the Peace Corps said all its volunteers in Belize were safe and have been consolidated in two locations.
The force of the hurricane blew huge amounts of water from Chetumal Bay and along Belize’s northern coast, piling it up further out at sea. As water levels dropped precipitously, 20-30 feet of the ocean bed was left dry, causing fear among the local population.
``People here were frightened. By experience, they know that if they see the water receding, it’s just concentrating, to come rushing back in furiously,″ said Chetumal city spokesman Mario Hernandez.
The ocean retreated from inlets in Belize City, and Skeen reported that sea levels at Corozal remained two feet below normal.
Ron Redding, whose Wichita Falls, Texas-based Baptist Association is visiting Belize to build churches, took the hurricane in stride.
Waiting out the storm at a Belize City hotel, Redding said: ``It’s just a lot of rain so far. We have wind like this all the time in Texas.″