Lessons from my first hurricane experience

“How did Ivan treat you?” Is a question that I am getting lately, and I know that many of you were praying for me and Jamaica and others, so I wanted to thank each of you and share my experience and lessons that I learned while Hurricane Ivan was breezing below Jamaica.

When I wrote this in Word, it was just over three pages, so either skim or bear with me 🙂 and all the little details …

On Wednesday evening, September 8, I got a call from my warden saying that Peace Corps was consolidating and I needed to be in Mandeville by noon the next day because of the coming storm. I told her that it would be much easier and faster for me to get to Kingston. Ann, our Safety and Security Coordinator (SSC), called me at 10:00 pm later that evening to say that it was official that I could come into Kingston instead of Mandeville. Anyway, I packed my bag that night and was at the Medallion Hotel the next day. When I arrived, not one of the staff was there and nobody really knew what was going on. The hotel that we were at was a change from the one that we were originally supposed to be at, and so many people were wondering why the change. At the seven o’clock meeting that night, I was able to share with the group that one of the reasons for the change was that PC staff thought that this was a more structurally sound building that could withstand a hurricane better than the former hotel. The other reason was that some staff that lived on the grounds who would be there through the storm. So there we were, at the Medallion Hotel, 43 of us from the Kingston area. We found out that there was another hotel, the Four Seasons, which was also housing some Kingston area PCVs. The other two hotels were in Mandeville and Montego Bay.

Light rain started Thursday night, and continued through Friday. Friday night is when the heavy rains really picked up, and you could see branches flying through the air, but not very much because it was dark. If the winds were really strong, then you could see the tree trunks and large branches under the light bending in different directions.

Waiting, being at the hotel was a lot of waiting. Some people filled the time trying to catch a bit of news, but they found themselves frustrated because different sources were all giving very different stories and information. Some volunteers filled their time playing cards, or games like Taboo and Cranium. For me, after meals I would make the rounds and see what people were doing, but there wasn’t much going on, so I often retreated to my room to pray, read the lesson, the Sentinel, or listen to hymns. I found this much more sustaining, comforting, and fulfilling than anything else going on at the hotel. I discovered how to make Concord play all three verses and show the words to each song, which was fun.

On Thursday night, the power went and the hotel switched to its generator. This meant that most lights and other things worked, but TVs did not. While the rest of the Island (without a generator) had no power, no water in the pipe, we still were able to charge our phones and had 3 catered meals a day.

Yes, the hotel leaked—a lot. There was one entire hall that had to move to other parts of the hotel because one section of the roof came off and flooded every room. One of the rooms on this particular hall had about three inches of water to wade through. In my room, water came down the inside wall and my roommate and I mopped it up once, while I did the job later the same day. Saturday morning, the dining room was also flooded, so for lunch we relocated to the main hall. Even though this room had a second story above it, in certain spots, you had to be careful where you sat and be wary of the drops coming from above.

The storm ended sometime on Saturday, and most of us went home on Sunday morning or afternoon. Three days and three nights of prayers and waiting, anxiety for most, wondering what our communities would be like when we got back.

Sunday morning, driving around Kingston, the most damage was fallen trees. One historic place called Devon House, with a lot of big trees, some museums, and the famous Devon House Icecream and tourist shops had a lot of trees that fell with all their roots exposed. This was sad to see since if they had only limbed some of the trees, most of them wouldn’t have fallen.

On the road back to Old Harbour Bay, several power poles were down. Talking to my Mom Thursday night, the big question that she had for me was, did you bring your quilt? (She had made a quilt for me before I left for Jamaica.) I had not thought of the possibility of my roof coming off, and I tried to tell her that my roof was sturdy, but I wasn’t totally sure myself. When I got to my house, the first thing that I looked for was any leaking and if my quilt was okay. Yes, thankfully, no part of the ceiling leaked and everything, the quilt, books and all were dry.

The hallway outside my room leaked (as it did before the storm) and the kitchen had leaked because part of a zinc lifted up. New holes were in the ceiling where Clive and Brenda, my housemates had drilled holes to let out the water—right over one of the working stove burners and cabinets. The dishes on the second shelf all filled with dirty water and I threw out the soaked box of tea as well as two containers of Quaker Oats. Most of the other food items were in cans or otherwise protected containers.

Water from the hallway overflowed from its container into the bathroom, so I had an inch or two to mop up there, but thankfully Clive had mopped up the kitchen overflows. Outside, the yard (about 15’ by 35’) was full of branches. Brenda explained that Clive had limbed our ackee and mango trees, which explained why there were more leaves on the ground than up on the branches. One nearly dead coconut tree (full of insect holes) and only a few feet from the roof of my room fell the other way onto the other coconut tree.

Yesturday afternoon, there were a lot of flies in the yard, and I thought many of them must be attracted to this “rubbish heap.” For a while now, after my begging, Clive had stopped burning this pile of mostly yard and food waste. I had objected because I didn’t want him to burn any plastic or household waste. I knew that neither Brenda or Clive wanted to burn the pile but wanted the flies gone, and so I decided that I wanted to have my own campfire. I did a really good job of burning all of the “trash” from the tree head and containing the fire.

The sections of the tree trunk are right now being used as a makeshift bench, but one has to be careful sitting there because the 5 sections are stacked lengthwise.

In my last entry from August, I had told you that I was building a toilet with a family and a mason. Things were going alright on the toilet, the pit was completed, and the house required some finishing touches. A week before the storm, I had put up the mosquito netting. After the storm though, the zinc house was in pieces on the ground and we were set back a few work days. Money for the labour finished long ago, and the mason hasn’t returned since. That and the fact that the future caretaker was out of town is why a few weeks ago I was the only one working.

Work has not yet started back on rebuilding the toilet and I don’t know when it will start back up. Right now, goats are using it the steps going up and the pit below as their personal area for toileting. Very funny J!

Ivan did some of the work that needed to be done, namely clearing some of the shacks on the beach. However, New shacks have replaced the old ones, one of them (with new zinc) is only about 12 feet from the water’s edge. This is not good at all because the boats don’t have proper space to pull up and anchor. Several boats were smashed and damaged because of this.

This just shows the crazy selfishness that I have to deal with and see through. A large group of people tries to sell and make a living on the beach every day, but people need to see that as a fishing beach, without fishing, the beach area has no business.

Parish Council is heading the development and progress of the beach project. As the new shacks were going up, the key people were occupied in other parts of the Parish dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane. After a visit to the beach with my supervisor, Mr. Graham, we decided that it was time to take a much stronger action to show that we mean business about the shacks not being there. When I talked with one Parish Council counterpart, he said that a truck and tractor would be visiting the beach soon. He didn’t know when, but soon. He said that a letter to the police is also in the works asking them to please patrol the area to stop/prevent the building/rebuilding of shacks. This was good to hear, but I will believe it when I see it.

This past week, visiting the office, I was able to finish off two Sentinels with time to rest in between. I hope as life settles back down, that the reading club gets off the ground (again) this year. Reading desparately needs to improve in this town, but finding dedicated volunteers to assist with guiding the participants in learning to read is worse than pulling teeth. It shouldn’t be, but here in Old Harbour Bay, it is.

OHDAC (my second appointed agency) is having another expo. I would love to have Science and Health there, but I don’t know if it will actually happen. What an idea though!! I think I am going to have to write to the Mother Church and see what I can do as far as cases of Science and Health and poster advertisements. I don’t have any idea if there is anyone in my church body that would volunteer to come, but who knows??

Let me sign off from this very long update… until another day… Take care of yourselves and be a blessing. Love God, love yourself, and love humanity!

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3 Responses to Lessons from my first hurricane experience

  1. Found your site while surfing the internet. You may be interested in:
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  2. Donald Lancaster says:

    I enjoyed coming across your blog. I was in Jamaica from August 1971 to July 1973, my parents were PC volunteers and at the time the Peace Coprs was experimenting with taking families. We made it the whole two years and I know of only one other family who made it through. Our group Peace Corps XII started with 120 and left two years later with 40. I was age 15 to 17 and went to The Priory School. We lived in Mona Heights and I knew the city lake the back of my hand. I spent many days out in the country visiting volunteers. I rode to Old Harbour on a mini bus by standing on the back bumper and hanging on the luggage rack. I spent a few days with a volunteer, Jack Wilson, in Old Harbour. We rode out to some of the little cays in the harbor in a fishing boat.
    I have fowarded a link to your site to many of those from our Peace Corps group. We get together every other year in August. (We were a very tight knit group.)

    Walk Good,


  3. Richie says:

    I am a Jamaican living in Canada for the past 5 years and its a wonderful feeling to know that you have had a wonderful experience in Jamaica

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