For most Grenadians, Tuesday September 7th 2005 is a date that will haunt us forever. Today is the first anniversary of Ivan, which as you know, wrecked devastation across the island during a 2 hour rampage.
Explaining the lead up to Ivan is odd – it sort of going from being an anti-climatic bother to being a rather climatic event. We had just come off a “kind of” alert for Tropical Storm Earl the weekend before. As can be expected, Earl was little more than some breezy rain, because as we all know, bad weather doesn’t come to Grenada! During my 34 years, I had never even experienced even a tropical storm in Grenada, so it is not a joke when you hear it said that most Grenadians just didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare. Looking at TV is one thing. Living it is another.
On the Sunday the Weather Channel was full of news of Hurricane Frances in Florida. Because of Ivan’s position at the time all indications were that it would veer north west – missing Grenada of course.
At work on Monday, our clients were abuzz with the “impending” storm. We locals were like “Oh crap, here we go with yet another storm drill again”. I was irritated with having to pack up all the office stuff AGAIN, waste a whole day emailing clients updates. Particularly since we were going to spend forever unpacking trying to find exactly where we put that folder we had been using just before we put it away. But we plodded on, determinedly packing up the office; storing computers, electronics, etc, away in huge plastic storage bins. [Which no one actually locked so when the office broke apart, the bin lids flew off and the computers…. floated..] By afternoon, the word was that this storm was definitely going to be affecting us. There was a little bit of excitement in the air, particularly when at the 2pm advisory Ivan had been upgraded to a hurricane. At that time it was still south east of Tobago and expectations were – of course – that it would swing sharply northwest, skimming north of Grenada. Poor St Vincent and St Lucia we thought. The hurricane is definitely going to hit them. Because, as we all know, hurricanes don’t come to Grenada at all!
One of my co-workers, an Argentinean called John [not really called John but the need for privacy reigns] , had just taken his wife and son to the airport that morning to catch a flight to Miami and then on to Argentina. Hurricane Frances in Florida had affected her travel plans that previous weekend and she had just managed to get on the first flight out to Miami. I asked John where he planned to go to “weather the storm” and suggested he come over and stay with us; we’d cook some food, John and MrYingYang would talk “computer techie” talk and we’d all have a few drinks and relax on our bad weather day off. John agreed to come over after but he had to get his boat hauled out first, so he’d drive over to our house later that night.
Leaving work that day I decided to pass by the supermarket to stock up on food and drinks. The supermarket was rammed. Looking back it is so ironic what people were shopping for! Like me, there were trolleys full of booze, drinks, snacks, one or two packs of batteries, the occasional tin of tuna. On a whim I picked up 2 gallons of water. I also tripped over a box of candles, nearly full; I took 3 packs. On the urging of one of my co-workers who was with me I also bought a flashlight – because hey! it was a good price! Besides, we didn’t own a flashlight so say what.Got home, offloaded groceries, put Toddler YingYang to bed, settled in for some TV (Law and Order). Around 11pm John arrived and crashed in the spare bedroom; I went to bed and left MrYingYang working in his office.The next morning Toddler YingYang, John and I were up early. The morning was slightly overcast, with a faint breeze. We ate breakfast, browsed the net, checked out the storm’s position. This time it looked like it was heading for a position between Tobago and Grenada. I was still optimistic. After all the day looked a bit like most “storm warning” days do… cloudy, cloudy and just plain old cloudy. I knew that NAWASA would cut off the water if the rain got heavy as they don’t like mud getting into the system through the reservoirs. Toddler YingYang and I took a shower around 11:30am, a decision that would turn out to be a good idea in retrospect. [The water would go around 2pm and we would be without running water for the next 2 weeks].
By noon John was convinced that the storm was coming for us. The wind had picked up quite a bit, periodically gusting, and some rain was falling. MrYingYang, like me, was very relaxed about the whole thing. We kept telling John not to worry. Hurricanes don’t pass over Grenada!The wind kept getting stronger. It was not steady and constant, but an erratic, squally, gusty wind. I called my dad to see what was going on in Grenville, the eastern side of the island and the first to get a ‘taste”. He said there was some wind and rain but nothing major. I called my mum; same story.
By 2pm the weather was getting really crappy. We started to feel a little apprehensive; maybe the hurricane WAS coming! Wow! Excitement! I called my dad again. He reported that a couple of trees had fallen close to his house. I looked out the front windows and noted, with great relief that a small cedar tree on the other side of the road had fallen in a direction away from my car. Thank the Lord! I couldn’t bear to have to face paying for repairs again!The weather deteriorated. Time and incidents were becoming blurred. I had towels down on the floor in Toddler YingYang’s room to stem the literal flood of water pouring through her window frames. I fretted that one of her window panes, which was already loose in the frame, would not make it through the day. Electricity went off abruptly. The internet had been off since about 1pm. We were running from one end of the house to the other. Look at the coconut trees – look at two down over there. Look at the rain – wow! Frigging hell…! Check out the roof on that guy’s house down there… the galvanized sheets are going! Damn!
MrYingYang shouted “Sh*t, there’s something on the car!”. I remember getting annoyed with him, as if he was jinxing the car or something. “Oh no there isn’t!” I said, even though I could definitely see the sheet of something, galvanise or plywood, on the car.Have you ever seen rain fall UPWARDS? The rain was so horizontal that it was literally coming up from the road. Outside was white; visibility was crappy. It was about 3:45. I called my mother. She was shouting “The roof went! The roof is gone”. I was beginning to get really worried. What the heck was she talking about? I thought maybe some galvanised sheeting had blown off her roof. [Her entire roof, rafters and ring beam went]Shouts from MrYingYang.. John ran to his assistance. The doors in the master bedroom that led to the little master verandah were rattling violently, like a giant was outside trying to shake them open. Seeing two grown men hanging on to the doors, and seeing these doors tossing the around men like matchsticks – amazing. MrYingYang let go of one and it flew outward. He grabbed it and tried to pull it shut, but the door was literally bending; he let it go again and it flew open… and broke in half. “Forget the room” I said. “We can’t do anything, just grab the TV and clear out”. They did. MrYingYang closed and locked the bedroom door leading to the hallway.
I was panicking now. We heard crashing on the roof, and saw galvanise tumbling past the house. The neighbors’ roofs were coming off and falling on ours. The telephone poles close to the house were rocking violently back and forth.Then out of nowhere the wind suddenly changed and became 10 times stronger. You could almost feel the force of the wind speed – it was like a gigantic pressure pushing on your chest. Our ears were popping; low and high air pressure. Unbelievable. Incredible noise from an incredible wind screamed overhead. I heard the verandah doors in the bedroom crashing and horrible, horrible noises; I looked in awe as my new and very expensive bedroom curtains flew past the front windows, still on the curtain rods.
Then, as easy as you can imagine, the roof directly above us went off. I can’t recall hearing it creaking or “breaking”. It just was there one minute and not there the next. Water poured in through the hallway that leads to what was MrYingYang’s office. John and I fled into the living room and we dived into a corner. I was shouting for MrYingYang to join us but he was frantically trying to save his computers from the flood going on in his office; he was moving everything he could get his hands on; later I would find out that he even went into Toddler YingYang’s room grabbing clothes. Toddler YingYang was a brave little trooper; she held on for dear life, and laid her head on my shoulders. Ever so often she would say “Rain.. rain..” I held her for 3 hours, that heavy 27-lb toddler. Ordinarily I can’t carry her for more than 5 minutes. I can’t remember thinking she was too heavy to carry.I don’t know if what I felt that day was what people call true fear. It didn’t feel like what I thought fear or panic or fright is supposed to. In fact, it felt very, very numbing. I can’t actually remember feeling anything but blankness. And disembodiment. Sort of like it wasn’t really happening. I definitely remember a horrifying feeling though, a feeling that only parents can appreciate. The feeling, the mental fright, that maybe you wouldn’t be able to keep your child safe, that the life of your baby might REALLY be in danger. Explaining this feeling is strange. It too is paralysing. But until you have looked at a virtual stranger, like I did with John, and asked them to take your child, if something should happen to you, and run to the only place you can imagine that might be safe (the retaining wall under the house)… Until you do something like that you cannot comprehend the feeling of not being able to protect your child, the feeling of total and absolute helplessness.The noise was incredible. I have never heard anything like this in real life before and don’t want ever want to again. It was like a hundred trains… the wind was SCREAMING. Have you ever heard wind scream? Like in the movies? Really screaming? Like in that movie “Twister” – exactly like that except it isn’t sound effects. The rain was like a big tap had opened above the house. MrYingYang was moving everything he could get his hands on. He was bare foot and his feet were getting cut with glass.Then house began to sway. I nearly peed myself. A massive frigging house, swaying every time a gust slammed into it. The French doors in the living room were shaking in the jambs. A pile of old computer hardware that MrYingYang had stacked up to throw away a couple of weeks before stopped the doors from opening. Those these old computers, in jamming the doors shut, actually saved the rest of the roof. If those doors had opened, the roof of the living room would have gone off too.
About 5:15, John was fretting about the eye of the hurricane. By our calculations the eye should be on us at any time and he was worried that the shift in wind would result in the living room windows that were 15 feet away from us, blowing in. As it was we were against the west wall of the living room, facing the east. The shrieking, howling, white freight train was at our back out of the west. In all my life in Grenada, I have never known wind to come from that direction. We debated back and forth about whether we should move location. MrYingYang warned that the corridors were flooding and full of glass. He reported that none of the west facing rooms were safe. We waited and waited, barricaded behind a large rattan coffee table. We had a last ditch plan to relocate to the guest bathroom if the living room was compromised; MrYingYang reported that a part of the roof was off in a section of the bathroom, but it would provide some rudimentary form of shelter if worse came to worse.
More sitting and waiting. Swaying house. I vowed to myself that if the roof of the living room stayed on we would buy the house (we have always felt the roof was shitty. To this day I am impressed at how well it stood up. However we have since decided not to buy the house and will be building out own). MrYingYang continued to pull the remnants of his computers out of his wrecked office. I still have a vision of him holding his precious computer and water streaming out of it like a sieve. The screaming slowed a bit. The wind gradually (very gradually) became less constant, wider gaps between gusts. John and MrYingYang agreed that we should move locations. It was dark; only about 6pm. The hallway still had its roof, even though it was under about 4 inches of water. We sat on the coffee table. The consensus was that the hurricane had passed; we didn’t want to think that there was more to come. The heavy winds and rain continued but the walls of the corridor blocked a lot of the noise out so it was more bearable. Unfortunately, I could hear, through the closed bedroom door 3 feet away, water falling like a waterfall into our bedroom.
MrYingYang and John ventured around a bit. They moved Toddler YingYang’s crib out her room. They were grabbing anything they could find and moving it into the living room. They brought food from the fridge and milk for Toddler YingYang. Her bedroom door kept banging; it had been closed during the storm and the wind had wrenched it open, shattering the door handle mechanism and disintegrating the frame of the door itself.The late evening is really blurry. We sat and ate. MrYingYang and John were ankle deep in water and we made jokes to keep spirits up. I drank Scotch and water….. ordinarily I hate Scotch but…. you know…. special circumstances. The weather was slowly getting better. Wind was coming in gusts, 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes apart. The time between the gusts increased, although the intensity of the wind didn’t seem like it was decreasing. We decided that we had no choice but to spend the night the living room, and set about making up some form of living space. Water was pouring down the corridor steps and threatening to flood the living room. MrYingYang and John rigged a dyke from sealing putty and wooden shelves. The dyke worked beautifully. We lay down on anything we could find; Toddler YingYang and I shared a couch, John was on a door that MrYingYang used to use as a work bench, MrYingYang was on the crib mattress.
Around 2am the winds picked back up and it started raining again. I cried. I couldn’t help it. I just wished it would stop. It struck me that there were no mosquitoes [and wouldn’t be for another week or so]. I finally fell asleep.
……….continues here ————