Story Of Hurricane Keith
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The 2000 Hurricane Season was not considered by many in the media to be a tremendously active one despite the large number of storms to develop. That was because there wasn't any significant hurricanes to hit the United States. However, there was a significant storm to hit in the Atlantic Basin, and it was Hurricane Keith.

This storm was the worst to hit Central America since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. We recently had the chance to interview George Ferrar, a priest serving a missionary in the Central American country of Belize, about the damage caused by Hurricane Keith on the island of Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize. As you will see, Keith was a very vicious storm.

Background on Hurricane Keith

Hurricane Keith started out as a tropical disturbance in the Southwest Caribbean on Tuesday, September 26, 2000. It had spread heavy rains in Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua. As the week progressed, Keith became better organized, and emerged as a tropical storm on Friday, September 29, 2000.

It was also still over the very warm waters of the Western Caribbean, and it wasn't moving very much although it was in the Gulf of Honduras. Forecasters indicated that Keith would probably move northward into the Gulf of Mexico, but it didn't do that. The upper level winds in the atmosphere that steer tropical storms and hurricanes usually break down in the Western Caribbean, and as a result the hurricane move at all, and make landfall somewhere.

So, it strengthened even more and became a Category Four Hurricane on October 1, 2000. Consequently, the coastal regions of Belize, and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico were hit very hard by this storm. George Ferrar, a priest helping people in Belize gave us a lot of details on how bad things were in Belize.

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The Interview With George Ferrar

GM: I was wondering how things were coming along in your country of Belize after Hurricane Keith has since left. I hope you are doing better although I can imagine that things are very tough for you. Let me know how you're doing, and if there is anyway I can help you.

GF: Hurricane Keith caught everyone by surprise. It started on Thurs. Sept. 28 as a tropical depression, just off the northeast coast of Honduras--where Mitch had turned away from Belize just two years ago. It headed north, then suddenly turned southwest toward Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The people of Caye Caulker didn't hear it was coming until it was too late to evacuate. They had little time even to board up before the menacing eye of Keith stared down the two islands.

Saturday Sept. 30 its winds measured 75 mph. Sunday Oct. 1 was the first time time I heard about it, when the winds had already whipped up to 145 mph, a Category Four hurricane. Keith stayed over the two islands for two days, and at one time the eye was hovering directly over Caye Caulker. It eventually weakened and staggered across the Yucatan Peninsula with winds around 75 mph.

I tried in vain to phone islanders and to find out what had happened to them. No one knew; all communications were cut off. All we could do was to pray as best we knew how. I decided to cancel the rest of my schedule and head back to see what I could do. Planes resumed travel to Belize on Tuesday and boats began to go out to the cayes on Wednesday. After looking into a Christian mission supply center (including humanitarian aid) called Equipping the Saints, in Virginia, I returned to Caye Caulker on Thursday.

As the boat approached the island, I could barely recognize it. The vast majority of the palm trees were down, and the ground was covered with debris. Most telephone poles were leaning and draping their power lines over the roads. Many houses built on stilts had collapsed onto the ground. Many roofs had blown off. Many homes, especially on the poverty-stricken west side of the island, were torn to pieces. But the people had miraculously survived.

Dazed, thirsty, famished, still in shock, they emerged from their shelters thanking God that they were still alive. Life will never be the same, and we must pray that the Lord will show them how to start over again and build their lives on the one sure foundation--His Word. I still haven't seen the extent of all the damage on the island. In the worst-hit area, one-third of the homes were completely destroyed, and 90% sustained damage. The scope of the destruction is more than one can comprehend in one day.

But I thank God that international relief is already arriving. And that our Christian Leaders Fellowship has reactivated Operation Belize Mercy--a CLF initiative which sent teams to northern Honduras after Hurricane Mitch. They are already on Caye Caulker and digging in to clean up the island, a process that should take two weeks. Then we will need rebuilding teams.

Pray that the Lord will raise up these teams to witness in word and deed of the Lord's power to overcome, and to work all things to the good of those who love Him. The rebuilding teams will probably be roughing it, as there is presently no working plumbing, electricity, or phone lines. The estimate of the recovery time for this infrastructure ranges from a few weeks to a few months. In the meantime, only the most basic food and water supplies are available.

GM: How can we help?

GF: The recovery process will be slow. Most of the poorer islanders lost their homes. Most of the more well-to-do lost their boats. They were reduced to the impoverished conditions from which they had risen in the 38 years since the last major hurricane. In all, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker suffered an estimated $100 million worth of damages.

It will be many weeks before phone lines, electricity & plumbing can be restored. Islanders were back to drawing water from wells, to bathing with buckets, to casting fish lines from crumbling piers, to cooking on open fires, to telling stories instead of watching TV, to groping in the dark by candlelight. Hurricane Keith threw the island back down the spiral of time into a more primitive era. The first phase of recovery was clean-up.

My friends at Christian Leaders Fellowship (CLF) quickly deployed Belizean teams to clear streets and paths of debris. This prepared the way for various agencies to bring in emergency supplies and begin the arduous task of replacing the crippled infrastructure, including the completely wrecked power station. But what of cleaning the yards, repairing the torn roofs and rebuilding homes for the homeless? There was no government plan. So we brainstormed in the Spirit and put together a CLF/Operation Belize Mercy proposal, articulated in writing by Scott Stirm. We recommended that Caye Caulker shift temporarily from a tourist economy to a disaster-relief economy.

Relief workers would pay low rates for hotel rooms without electricity and for restaurant meals by candlelight. That would re-employ some islanders. Other islanders--who are already growing dependent on government handouts--would start working for food through a voucher program. No work, no food. They could be organized into teams which would clear yards, fix roofs, etc. Teams of neighbors could even, with some training and supervision, build houses for each other, partly on loan contracts from the Belizean government.

One team could set concrete foundations and supports in place, another team frame the floors, another team frame standard-sized walls, and another team assemble roofs. We presented this plan to government officials, and they approved it! But we 're short of supplies. Now we need contributions for materials to alleviate the prohibitive costs, and for equipment such as a generator, cement-mixer, portapotty, and tools to enable the workers.

The same equipment can be stored for building our mission high school and for use in future emergencies. You can make out your tax-deductible contribution to Living Waters Missions, write "Hurricane Keith Recovery Fund" on the memo line, and send it to the address below.

GM: You can help by sending a check written out to Living Waters Missions, and send it to the following:

Hurricane Keith Recovery Fund
c/o Living Waters Missions
2026 Arrowhead Drive
Traverse City, MI 49686

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