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Hurricane slams Belize


Hurricane Iris weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday but not before slamming into Belize with 140-mph winds.

Once the storm hit Belize's Caribbean coast, its winds dropped to 80 mph. Officials reported that damage assessments could not begin until the weather improved. Many homes in the coastal community of Placencia were reportedly destroyed.

"Belize felt the full impact of Iris, and other central American countries are suffering as well," said Fred Toland, a field consultant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "There will be a long recovery process from this storm."

More than 15,000 people in Belize evacuated from the coastal areas.

By Tuesday morning Iris had lost steam over land, and was a tropical storm hovering near the border of Guatemala and Mexico with winds of just 40 mph.

Last year, Hurricane Keith killed 15 people when the storm raked Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Hurricane Iris hit the Dominican Republic Sunday, killing three people and damaging homes.

Hurricane Iris was the largest storm of the season. As a Category 4 hurricane, it was capable of leaving substantial damage and considered extremely dangerous.

Iris dropped between 5 and 8 inches of rain in most areas, which could still cause flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas, forecasters reported.

Iris churned across Jamaica Sunday with heavy winds and rain, leaving one man injured when his home collapsed, according to the Jamaica Office of Emergency Preparedness (JOEP). Metal roofs were blown off some homes in southwestern Jamaica and about 10 homes were evacuated due to flooding, the JOEP reported.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs to Nov. 30.

Hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University, predicted a more intense storm season this year than has yet been realized. Gray predicted 12 named storms, seven hurricanes and three intense hurricanes of Category 3 or greater on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Gray also said there was a 69 percent chance of one or more major hurricanes making landfall along the U.S. coast this season (compared to 52 percent for the past century). There is a 50 percent chance that landfall would be along the East Coast and the Florida peninsula and a 39 percent chance of landfall along the Gulf Coast, he predicted.

A storm becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph.

On Saturday in the Dominican Republic, the hurricane caused a retaining wall to collapse, which then leveled a home and killed the family of three inside. Low-lying areas of Santo Domingo were evacuated Saturday.

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