Monday, November 1, 2010

A Breezy Weekend

Now that’s the understatement of the century. Tropical Storm / Hurricane Tomas really shook up Barbados (though not as much as it did St. Lucia and St. Vincent). And being so late in the hurricane season, it caught everyone off guard, and me in particular! Word came late Friday evening of a tropical storm warning, which we took mildly seriously, going out for dinner but calling it an early night. We only heard of the upgrade to a hurricane watch from a colleague who phoned around 11pm. This is the downside to not having a working tv, a radio or reliable internet. After bringing in patio chairs, laundry, the garbage can and shoes, we closed all the windows and went to bed. By midnight, the rain and wind was so loud, I was waking up every 2 hours until our landlord’s phone call at 6:30am.

“We’re all fine; the house is fine,” was all I could string together in my groggy state. No power, but we had water. Melissa, my newest roommate and emergency management intern at unicef, was also up early. The banana tree in our backyard had fallen but luckily it was not large enough to damage anything. The storm was still surging outside. We ate our breakfast almost in silence, discussing tactics for if we felt the winds were getting stronger. We could put a mattress against the glass door. We should take shelter in the corners away from windows. And we should have bought candles.

By midday, the ‘all clear’ was given to emergency crews and police to start clearing roads and getting the people who needed urgent help. Luckily, we remembered that Melissa’s phone has an FM radio, so we took turns following the news and napping or cleaning the house. The news was structured mostly as a call-in show, where people from all over the island called to explain the situation in their area, so that emergency crews listening could make note. St. Lucy, the northernmost point, and St. George in the east, sustained the worst damage. Christ Church, where our house is, was also quite badly hit. Government subsidized housing across the country sounded pretty well destroyed; so much for building codes.

I was particularly transfixed to the radio when callers explain their personal stories:
- An old lady appealing for help after a pear tree fell on her roof
- A lupus sufferer and others with special needs whose neighbours were calling to report roofs blown off and unsure of what to do about medications
- A family whose house was destroyed staying at a primary school and appealing for basic assistance
- Intense flooding in some area; with one report only saying there was major flooding in one house with a baby inside...and so is anyone helping?!?
- “Fisherfolk” in the East and West coasts braving the surf to salvage their boats – their livelihoods
- Someone calling to tell “George” that his house had been destroyed (this one pulled at my heart strings)

The “all clear” was given around 2:30pm, though intense rain continued so we actually never left the house on Saturday. Stores were obviously not open, so with only one flashlight and early nightfall here, we packed it in early for another restless sleep as the tropical storm conditions continued. At one point, around 2am Sunday morning, I was hugging the far corner of my bed, to get as far away from the window as possible – even though I knew the hurricane had passed. Sunday we stocked up on non-perishables and candles amidst a frantic crowd at the grocery store. Power lines were down all over our street, but only our street. So we pretty much have lowest priority on the entire island.

This is like forced camping. Did I mention how much I love gas stoves?

Regardless, all is well here, though without power for an undetermined amount of time. Another experience for the books. Here's to hoping Tomas miraculously steers clear of Haiti.

RIP our banana tree:

Putting together 'Return to Happiness' child trauma counseling kits at work:

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