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Hurricane Lisa batters Belize as it makes landfall


Times are Belize Central Time. Source: Observed and forecast storm positions from NOAA

By The New York Times


Hurricane Lisa was battering parts of Belize as it made landfall on Wednesday afternoon while many residents took shelter from the powerful winds and threat of flooding.


As the storm hit the nation of about 400,000 people, lampposts fell, some houses lost their roofs and others collapsed, and some residents of Belize City called a local television show to ask for emergency assistance.


Prime Minister John Briceño told The New York Times in a telephone interview that the government was more concerned about flooding than wind damage.


“The problem that we have in Belize City is that Belize City is about a foot above sea level and we expect the water surge or the sea to surge between 2 to 5 feet, so large areas of Belize City will be underwater,” said Briceño, speaking from his home in Orange Walk Town.


The storm, forecast to bring dangerous conditions to several countries in Central America, made landfall about 10 miles southwest of Belize City, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. It had prompted an earlier hurricane warning for the coast of Belize and a part of Mexico from Chetumal to Puerto Costa Maya.


The Hurricane Center said the storm would move through Belize and would cross northern Guatemala into southeastern Mexico by Thursday.


As the Category 1 hurricane threatened Belize, the minister of disaster risk management, Orlando Habet, said officials had issued multiple advisories as a precaution. “However, we continue at the last hour to emphasize and increase our efforts to protect our greatest asset, our human resource,” he said.


Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the northern coast of Guatemala, and the Mexican coast from Puerto Costa Maya to Punta Allen. The government of Honduras had discontinued a tropical storm warning for Bay Islands and the northern coast of Honduras.


Heavy rain and wind were visible in livestream footage of the coast of Honduras that was posted by Los del Puerto, a news site in Puerto Cortés, Honduras.


In Guatemala, CONRED, the national emergency management agency, said that 19 homes had been damaged by flooding late Wednesday morning in Melchor de Mencos, a municipality on the border with Belize.


The National Meteorological Service of Belize had issued a flood warning for low-lying and coastal areas and advised small boats to remain in harbors. A storm surge could raise water levels by as much as 4 to 7 feet above normal tide levels there and in southeastern parts of the Yucatán Peninsula, forecasters said.


Twelve shelters in Belize City were housing 1,221 people as of noon local time on Wednesday. Most of the shelters were occupied and being serviced by public officers, Mayor Bernard Wagner of Belize City said.


“I am encouraged by the majority of the residents of Belize City taking heed of the call by the authorities to seek shelter in the event that their homes are not able to withstand hurricane force winds in excess of 75 miles per hour,” he said.


Lisa was expected to produce up to 6 inches of rain, with local amounts up to 10 inches, across Belize, northern Guatemala and parts of Mexico. Up to 4 inches of rain were forecast for the southeastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Bay Islands in Honduras, central Guatemala and south-central Campeche, Mexico.


As Lisa moved west across the western Caribbean, Hurricane Martin was intensifying over the central North Atlantic but posed no threat to land.


On the beach in Placencia, on the coast of Belize, Shelly Hyde, the manager of Julia’s Guesthouse and Cabanas, was overseeing workers cutting plywood to board up windows. Cabanas were being hauled further inland. Heeding warnings about strong winds, workers trimmed trees and cleared debris to lessen the risk of flying objects, she said.


At least 12 guests in the eight-room hotel were given instructions to relocate to the nearest shelter as a precaution, she said. The hotel sits about 100 miles from areas in the south where Hyde expected the storm to make landfall, but she said in an interview that she was not taking any chances.


“We do not encourage anybody to stay here, especially on the beach,” she said, with the noise of hammering from a nearby bar in the background. “Better safe than sorry.”


Guatemala had deployed members of its disaster reduction agency to the regions of Izabal, Alta Verapaz and Retalhuleu on Tuesday.


Lisa formed on Monday, becoming the 12th named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season. The season, which runs from June through November, had a relatively quiet start, with only three named storms before Sept. 1 and none during August, the first time that has happened since 1997. Storm activity picked up in early September with Danielle and Earl, which formed within a day of each other. By the end of September, Hurricane Ian had slammed into the coast of Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, one of the most powerful storms to hit the United States in the past decade.


Last year, there were 21 named storms, after a record-breaking 30 in 2020. For the past two years, meteorologists have exhausted the list of names used to identify storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, an occurrence that has happened only one other time, in 2005.


The links between hurricanes and climate change have become clearer with each passing year. Data shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.


Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

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