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Hurricane Iris was the ninth named storm, fifth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season. Iris formed on October 4 just east of the Windward Islands. Iris made landfall in Monkey River Town, Belize on October 9 as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, with winds at 145 mph with a pressure of 948 mb. Iris dissipated later that day.
Iris caused $150,000,000 (2001 USD) in damage and killed over 31 people; 3 in the Dominican Republic, 8 in Guatemala, and 20 from the M/V Wave Dancer, a ship that capsized off the coast of Belize. Also, newspaper reports indicate that 30 additional deaths occured in Belize from Iris, but the government in the country has only confirmed the 20 deaths associated with the capsize of the Wave Dancer.
|Formation||October 4, 2001|
|Dissipation||October 9, 2001|
|Highest winds||145 mph|
|Lowest pressure||948 mbar|
|Areas affected||Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Belize, Guatemala|
A tropical wave exited the coast of Africa in late September. The wave began moving westward across the Atlantic Ocean near the end of September, and as it entered an area of more favorable atmospheric conditions and developed a closed surface circulation, it is estimated to have become Tropical Depression Eleven on October 4, while located 85 miles southeast of Barbados. After forming, the depression moved west-northwest and entered the Carribean Sea, and it strengthened into Tropical Storm Iris on October 5, while located about 240 miles south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Iris began to move more towards the west, and it became a hurricane on October 6 near the Barahona Peninsula. A strong mid-level ridge forced Iris to stay on its westward track, which spared Jamaica from a direct hit. At this point, Iris rapidly intensified, its pressure dropping from 990 mb to 950 mb, and its winds increasing from 85 mph to 140 mph in just 18 hours. Just before Iris made landfall in Monkey River Town, Belize, it reached its peak intensity of 145 mph with a pressure of 948 mb. After landfall, Iris rapidly weakened over the mountains of Central America, dissipating later that day. The remnants of Iris entered the Pacific Ocean and contributed to the formation of Tropical Storm Manuel.
Sixteen warnings and watches were issued in association with Iris for Jamaica, the provinces of Granma, Santiago de Cuba, Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize over a stretch of 4 days.
Iris killed 17 United States citizens. Twenty scuba divers from Richmond Dive Club in Richomnd, Virginia, were anchored at a small dock 90 miles south of Belize City when their boat capsized after being hit directly by Iris; three people survived. The result was the worst diving accident in United States history. Family members of the dead allege negligence on the part of the company that chartered the trip, Peter Hughes Diving Co. They claim that the company did not prepare sufficiently for the hurricane, and did not heed the warnings of local officials to abandon ship and move inland. Their story is chronicled in the book "No Safe Harbor: The Tragedy of the Dive Ship Wave Dancer" authored by survivor Joe Burnworth.
This was said by the travel service of Belize: "Hurricane Iris, a compact, category 4 storm bringing 18 foot sea surges, 145 mph winds and six inches of rain slammed into southern Belize Monday night, demolishing hundreds of homes and leaving at least 10.000 people homeless."
The poor rural Mayan villages in the southern Toledo Dirstict of Belize were hardest hit by Hurricane Iris. Because those villages are inland, they were not prepared for a significant impact from the hurricane. San Pedro Columbia, one of the largest villages in the Toledo District, had 204 homes completely destroyed, and 150 homes badly damaged. Other villages that were reportedly hit hard by the hurricane were Big Falls, Indian Creek and Medina Bank. Also, 26 of the 56 rural schools in the district were reported to have been destroyed by the hurricane.
Finally, another ship called the Vendera reportedly capsized with people on board, but the National Hurricane Center has not confirmed this. The government of Belize reports that 20 people are dead from Iris and that Iris caused $150,000,000 (2001 USD) in damage in the country.
In Guatemala, 8 people were killed by flooding caused by Iris.