Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 was my first experience with a hurricane. I was young, I didn’t know what kind of damage and destruction such severe weather could bring. So news of the impending storm was exciting.
It was the second week of school so all the back-to-school excitement was over and we didn’t mind hearing that school was cancelled. At first, nobody thought it would actually hit the country so there was debate as to whether the boarders at my school should actually be sent back home. For some, it would be a long trip and not one to be made unnecessarily. As the hours ticked by, everyone could see it was definitely coming. Time to stop pretending everything is okay and batten down.
We had goats; we put them in a pen. We had cows; my dad secured them. We lived in a concrete house with a good zinc roof and metal louvre windows. We felt secure. We got batteries. We got some tin food and bread and moved in.
After a few hours, I began to feel a little like Noah’s kids must have. When is this rain that you keep promising actually going to start? We watched the skin get overcast. The electricity was still on so we listened to the radio and watched the television coverage. Everyone kept talking about The Eye. I was still young enough to believe an actual eye would be visible in the sky. I kept peeking through the window hoping to see it.
Then the rains started. The wind first. Wind like I’d never heard before. And rain. Thunderous showers that sounded like a drum full of water was being emptied on the roof. I cried and giggled. Nervous. Excited. A little worried now. Then a lot fearful.
We heard people screaming. A cautious look through the window confirmed that some of the “safe zinc roofs” had lifted, peeled off like plastic and some were even blowing around wet, ghostly streets, scraping everything it passed like large blades. In our community, many fancy new houses lost their new-fangled, decramastic shingled roofs that Monday afternoon. Trees were down. Light posts were down. Lots of structures flattened. Listening to the radio only confirmed that it was the same everywhere across the country.
The small size of the island meant that the whole island was being hit at the same time and all over it, the same tales being reported by high-pitched voices of whichever reporter was on duty everywhere they could get to.
The electricity went soon after the storm started. It didn’t come back for two weeks. We ate everything in the fridge and freezer. Luckily we had a gas stove so we could cook it all instead of throwing it out. We ate well for a few days and then everyone ate meals that revolved around tin corned beef (aka bully beef) and saltfish and canned or brined mackerel – things that didn’t need refrigeration.
Lloyd Lovindeer recorded a song about his hurricane experience immediately and it became the anthem of that memory, particularly the line:
Full of bully beef, full of bully beef, can’t get to cook so we full of bully beef.
When the rain subsided, it took months to try to get back to normal. It’s hard to make a decision between buying food or replacing the roof over your head. There was incredible loss of life and livelihood – human life, livestock, ruined crops. Roads were eroded and not fixed for a long time.
Since then, I’ve experienced several hurricanes – Andrew, Sandy, I can’t even remember them all.
I know that some of the worst fears have to be that of natural disasters. Tornadoes, cyclones, Earthquakes, tsunamis… there just isn’t anything you can do to prevent it from coming. You prepare your house, you prepare your mind and you wait. And while you wait, you pray.
Today, I am praying for everyone affected by Hurricane Matthew. I know that the effects don’t end when the rain subsides. Just because the rain has stopped, doesn’t meant there isn’t still fallout – clean-up, rescue, recovery, etc.
If you are dealing with the aftermath of the storm, are in the middle of the storm, bracing yourself for what is to come or worried for someone who is being affected, you are in my prayers today.
May God bless and keep you and your loved ones safe! That’s all it’s about.