Belize hurricane kills 19 tourists on diving holiday

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The Independent Online

Nineteen people, including 17 Americans, were killed when Hurricane Iris ripped into a tourist boat, flattened homes and ruined crops in Belize, officials said on Tuesday.

Nineteen people, including 17 Americans, were killed when Hurricane Iris ripped into a tourist boat, flattened homes and ruined crops in Belize, officials said on Tuesday.

The 19 victims died in the sinking of the Wave Dancer, a 40ft diving boat carrying US tourists and a Belizean crew. The vessel broke loose from a dock in the port of Independence, 116 miles south of Belize City, and went down on Monday night as Iris hit Belize with winds of up to 140mph.

Belize officials described Iris as the most powerful hurricane to hit the country in 40 years. Iris has left some 8,000 Belizeans homeless and has also killed three people in the Dominican Republic.

Of the party of 28 tourists and crew members on board the Wave Dancer, eight people survived, rescuers said. At least one person may still be missing.

"It was horrible," said Don Post, a tourist from California who was on a diving boat tied next to the Wave Dancer. "One minute people were having a lot of fun, and the next minute they were dead."

Jerry Schnabel, whose boat was also caught in the storm, said: "It looks like a tugboat broke loose and hit their vessel." The tugboat appeared to have punctured a hole in the Wave Dancer "and in less than a minute they were down".

Many Belizeans fled inland before the storm blew ashore about 80 miles from Belize City. The strongest part of the storm hit towns including Monkey River Town, Placencia, Independence and Big Creek.

Prime Minister, Said Musa, said: "This was a really devastating hurricane. You can see the banana fields have been totally flattened. A priority is to get people back into safe homes."

Last year, Hurricane Keith killed 15 people in Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua, and caused up to £130m in damage to Belize's economy.

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