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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hurricane Lisa heads for Belize

Flooding in Belize City, Belize, on Wednesday as the country braced for the arrival of Hurricane Lisa.

By The New York Times

Hurricane Lisa strengthened and bore down on Belize on Wednesday afternoon as residents took shelter from the powerful winds and threat of flooding.

The storm, forecast to bring dangerous conditions to several countries in Central America, was churning west from near the Belize Barrier Reef as of 2 p.m. Eastern, prompting a hurricane warning for the coast of Belize and a part of Mexico from Chetumal to Puerto Costa Maya.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm would then cross northern Guatemala into southeastern Mexico by Thursday.

In Belize, the National Emergency Management Organization estimated that dozens of people had sought refuge in shelters across the country. The entire country is under warnings for flooding along the coast and from storm surge, the country’s principal hydrologist, Tennielle Hendy, said.

As the Category 1 hurricane was slamming into 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.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the storm had sustained winds of 80 mph and was about 35 miles east-southeast of Belize City, moving west at 14 mph, the Hurricane Center said. It had reached hurricane strength early in the day.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the Bay Islands, the northern coast of Honduras west of Punta Castilla, the northern coast of Guatemala, and the Mexican coast from Puerto Costa Maya to Punta Allen.

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 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.

The meteorological service said forecast models showed that the hurricane was expected to make landfall over central Belize on Wednesday evening, south of Belize City near Gales Point Manatee, a small fishing village that stretches out from the mainland on a peninsula.

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

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

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, central Guatemala and south-central Campeche, Mexico.

On the beach in Placencia, on the coast of Belize, Shelly Hyde, 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 expects the storm to make direct 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.”

Honduras is one of the countries that experts say are most vulnerable to climate change. In 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota affected 4 million people and caused extensive destruction. Already this year, the hurricane season has caused flooding, and soil along the northern coast has not completely dried out yet.

Heavy rains during Hurricane Julia in October destroyed dozens of homes in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Large and damaging waves are expected near the coast, forecasters said.

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

Lisa formed 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.

In early August, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an updated forecast for the rest of the season, which still called for an above-normal level of activity. In it, they predicted that 14 to 20 named storms could form during the season, which runs through Nov. 30, with six to 10 turning into hurricanes that sustain winds of at least 74 mph. Three to five of those could strengthen into what NOAA calls major hurricanes — Category 3 or stronger — with winds of at least 111 mph.

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; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

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