Having lived my entire life in a country where natural disasters just don’t happen (unless you count Brexit!), moving to an island in a part of the world that is plagued with hurricanes is, at the very least, a culture shock.
I was reliably informed before I made the move that Cayman is usually pretty safe, they usually only experience very minor hurricanes here which are nothing to write home about due to the fact that the island is pretty much sheltered underneath Cuba. However this isn’t always a guaranteed safety net as back in September 2004 (when I was 14 and hurricanes were something that only happened on TV) the Cayman Islands were struck by Hurricane Ivan, a category 5 hurricane that ravaged all 3 islands and caused severe, widespread damage to the majority of the buildings. 2 people were killed and the electricity, water and sewer supplies were knocked out for months. Safe to say – I hope that nothing like that ever happens here again!
But hurricane season, like every season, arrives every year between 1st June and 30th November and the residents here have to be prepared for the worse, just in case. Now, given my sheltered upbringing in England and reassurance from locals that I’d need to worry more about the sun than the wind, I guess you could say I’ve been somewhat blasé about the whole subject. That changed very quickly when I read in the news last week about the developing tropical storm Matthew – growing so strong it had earned a name. Before long it had grown so strong the powers-that-be had designated it as a hurricane, with winds of 75mph and still growing strong. Over 24 hours the hurricane developed from a category 1 to category 5 (least severe to most severe) and everyone in the area suddenly began to sit up and take notice.
The meterologists studying Matthew explained the path they thought he would take – starting in the eastern Caribbean and slowly working its way westwards, but taking a turn northward once it hit the centre of the Caribbean area. Those of us watching in Cayman were particularly hopeful about this last detail – if Matthew failed to turn North it would be headed on a direct path towards us.
Though trying hard to keep my mind focused on my teaching, I couldn’t help keeping one constant eye on the news. Matthew was yet to make his anticipated turn to the North, something they said would have happened on Friday but by Saturday had still yet to occur. This is when the dread and fear began to set in, as well as my personal realisation that I had no idea what to do if the worst happened; what I should have in my “hurricane kit”; and where the nearest shelter was to me. I jumped on the internet frantically looking for tips and suggestions. Cayman New Resident had a whole section on how to prepare for hurricanes so after taking it all in I jumped in the car and headed to the supermarket for supplies.
To any outsiders watching I suppose I looked slightly deranged grabbing armfuls of tins of value spaghetti and fruit cocktail and dumping them into my trolley, but at this point I wasn’t bothered at all. Besides, I wasn’t alone, several people were following suit and pushing around full trolleys of non-perishable foods not requiring electricity to be eaten. The internet guide suggested having enough food and bottled water to last at least a week – I could probably manage 10 days with what I bought but better to be safe than sorry. I also grabbed a bumper first aid kit (as the Red Cross has thoroughly trained me in the art of putting on plasters safely now) and some matches, which seemed a good idea at the time but in hindsight would probably be as much use in a hurricane as a chocolate fireguard.
Ironically, no sooner had I got everything back to the house and unpacked, I checked the news and it informed me that Matthew had indeed started to turn to the North. PHEW. I let out the biggest sigh of relief – but then mentally kicked myself as I’d just spent close to $100 for no reason. Well, not NO reason I suppose. At least now I know I am somewhat more prepared if the worst should happen – I can look at this like a dummy run. Sort of like one of those unannounced school fire drills where everyone except the teachers (who were obviously very good actors as I now know they were totally in on it the whole time) thought there was a real fire and the whole place was going to burn down. I remember always grabbing my clarinet to take out with me just in case – though my teachers hated that!
As relieving as it is to know that this time around the worst Grand Cayman will see is a few days of rough sea and maybe some heavy rain, other countries won’t be so lucky. As I type Hurricane Matthew is only about 300 miles south of Haiti and Jamaica, and then not far at all from Eastern Cuba. It has been downgraded from a Cat 5 to Cat 4 but is still borderline between the 2, and will no doubt cause utter devastation to everything in its path. The unfortunate thing with natural disasters is that there is very little you can do to stop them. I read that there are hundreds of people evacuating Jamaica but this isn’t an option for everyone – flights are expensive and I doubt there will be enough planes to meet demand. Besides, the storm is only 36 hours away and my guess is by a certain point all flights will be grounded anyway. I suppose all we can do is keep these people in our hearts and thoughts, and prayers if that’s your thing, and maybe once the worst is over see how we can help with the relief effort.
Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, we’re thinking of you. Good luck and stay as safe as you can.