Sheila and I were stranded on Jamaica after a hurricane hit the island. The only flights coming in and out the first week were stripped down cargo planes being used for emergency relief drops at the military base. We were told that the commercial airlines would be cleared for landing after Sangster was up and running again, so we had lots of time on our hands while we waited to be flown back to the States.
I heard guests grumbling about being stuck on the island with nothing to do. I guess lying on the beach and swimming in the pool might get boring after a couple of weeks, but that was the last thing on our minds after what we had both lived through. Instead, we helped as much as possible around Sunny Bay, picking up debris and raking the beach, giving back as much as we could to the owner who had lost so much.
We knew that most of the resort staff was digging through the rubble of their own homes or helping their families, looking for anything of value not destroyed by the relentless wind and rain. When one of the police officers investigating the murders invited me on a ride-along – just to keep him company while he looked for evidence that tied the murders together – I agreed, curious to see how everything looked now that the sun was out.
The storm had left thousands of people homeless. Some of the seaside fishing bungalows had been little more than shacks and were swept away in the first storm surge, but the wreckage went on for miles. Only a couple of buildings still stood in the center of the island and even those looked as if a strong push would finish them off. Masses of people trudged toward the refugee tent city near Kingston, in search of a safe place to sleep and eat. Power was gone. Forget about food and fresh water.
The drive into the countryside was sobering. Unfortunately, it would be months before decent housing could be built for everyone who needed it.
Note from Patti:
As many of you know, ‘Kerrian’s Notebook’ is a blog written by Charlie Kerrian, the lead detective in my unpublished novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Many of the posts are related in some way to events in the book, or tell about Charlie and Sheila’s life after their Jamaican adventure ends.
“Help After the Storm…” is based on an actual hurricane that plowed through Jamaica many years ago. The island was devastated for months. Almost every year now, hurricanes slam the eastern U.S. with high winds and rain, wreaking havoc as they chew through the countryside. Homes are simply washed away.
When unprecedented hundreds of tornadoes pummeled the Midwest and southeastern U.S., people hit the hardest were without power, food, and water and relied on the kindness of friends and family for basic necessities. In some states, homes were blown apart by the violent circular columns of wind, leaving nothing but piles of lumber behind. There were dozens of deaths reported.
Whatever the type, natural disasters are overwhelming to the communities struck by them. After storms strike, contact your church to see if it is doing a clothing/food/water collection and donate whatever you can. Ask if the church is sending a reconstruction team to one of the affected towns. Contact your local branch of Habitat for Humanity and ask what you can do to help as a part of their Disaster Relief Program.
After I posted the last hurricane entry (p. 13) people asked what to do if a hurricane hits while they are on vacation.
What happens if you have spent a boat load of cash upfront and a storm moves in? Do you leave? Do you stay put? And that biggie – will you get your money back?
Most hurricanes have a lead time of several days, so if you haven’t left the States, but are worried about approaching storms, call the resort yourself and find out about their bad weather policies. Didn’t get the phone number when you booked? Google it.
Questions to ask: Does the resort have its own safe area to wait it out or will the guests be evacuated to a larger, safer place? If you can juggle your plans a little, ask the manager if you can delay your arrival. Don’t risk going through the travel agency on this, because the information may not be accurate unless you deal directly with the hotel itself. As for refunds, if you paid for travel insurance when you first booked the trip, you might be able to get your money back. Don’t be shy about asking.
If you’re already onsite, don’t buck the odds by taking an excursion if the hurricane is due to hit that day. Sounds obvious, but some travelers have an adventurous (translation = reckless) mindset. The price tag of a rescue operation – several thousand dollars – being added to your checkout bill, should make you think twice. Besides, it’s more fun to stay put. Quite often, guests can enjoy a full-blown hurricane party, safe behind concrete walls built to withstand the ripping force of 150 mile an hour winds.
If you are off site and the storm moves in more quickly than anticipated, veers off course, you get a flat tire, you get lost, etc., getting to high ground to avoid drowning in the rising sea is the best idea. Get out of the car, find some solid cover and pray, because you will never be able to outrun a Class 4 or 5 hurricane, once the storm has reached landfall.
*Photo by Patti Phillips
Hurricanes do a lot of damage. Billions of dollars in property and businesses are lost every year to the incessant slamming of wind and rain on the coastal regions of the Western Hemisphere. Lives are lost or torn apart and homes have to be rebuilt from scratch, all because a collection of gentle raindrops is transformed by nature into a monstrous, angry, catastrophic event.
Even at level 1, the least powerful of hurricane categories, winds of up to 95mph can knock people off their feet, disintegrate roofs and send debris flying through the air. Remember Katrina and the personal and economic devastation it wreaked in 2005? That was an over two hundred mile wide, level 5 storm, with howling winds up to 175mph, the most costly hurricane the U.S. had experienced to that point. And it’s not even the largest hurricane on record. Windows blown out, buildings collapsed, vast low-lying areas underwater for weeks, many uninhabitable neighborhoods in the aftermath – that is the norm for such an enormous storm.
Government agencies help with re-establishing communications, getting water and clothing to the victims and assisting with rescue efforts. But, even at the most basic level, this can take weeks if the roads are impassable or if manpower is limited. Enter volunteer groups – essential to any recovery and rebuilding process.
Experience has shown that since we cannot change nature, the best plan is to get out of the way until storms move on or dissolve. If we evacuate before they hit, at least lives can be saved, if not property.