The Monday morning after Hurricane Ivan passed, Sandy Urquhart, General Manager of the West Indian Club Nursery, felt torn.
He had spent the night before in his Hummer vehicle rescuing people from buildings devastated by the storm, so he knew the kind of damage the island had sustained.
Like many on the island at the time, he worried that many residents might have died during the vicious hurricane. ‘I had 15 members of staff still on the island who had not evacuated, and I was concerned about where they were and what state they were in,’ he said.
But Mr. Urquhart also was worried about the West Indian Club Nursery, something he had spent the last decade developing into one of the world’s foremost entities of its kind.
‘I decided that I had to take a look at the nurseries first and get that over with,’ he said.
When he drove into the propagation nursery off the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, Mr. Urquhart saw the effects of several feet of flooding.
‘I thought we’d lost everything. I thought I’d lost 10 years of my life. It was just completely devastated,’ he said.
On entering the Nursery’s second location on Batabano Road in West Bay, Mr. Urquhart found a better situation. ‘That was a relief,’ he said. ‘You could tell that the water levels had been a lot lower there.’
Mr. Urquhart then proceeded to track down the nursery’s employees on the island to make sure they were all right. ‘All 15 were accounted for by Monday night,’ he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Urquhart and his staff began the arduous task of saving what it could at the Batabano site, putting fallen plants upright again, clearing debris and removing dead plants. It was an unpleasant task for the people who had worked so hard to help create so much life.
‘There was a great deal of depression at first,’ Mr. Urquhart said. ‘There was a tremendous sense of loss. But I explained to the staff that the glass was really half full.’
Although plant life was an important factor at the nursery, it was not the only factor Mr. Urquhart said. ‘The true beauty of this nursery isn’t the plant material, but the 10 years of knowledge we’ve gained on how to propagate here in the Cayman Islands.’
With that knowledge, and the dedicated work of its employees, the West Indian Club Nursery has already started to grow again. Mr. Urquhart estimates that 80 percent of the plants at the Batabano location were salvaged.
Speaking of his staff’s performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, Mr. Urquhart glows. ‘The true value of our staff became apparent,’ he said. ‘The quality of our people was astonishing. They had phenomenal drive to deal with this.’
Similarly to the way some of the heartier native plants survived the hurricane, Mr. Urquhart thinks that the response of the indigenous people is linked to heritage. ‘It’s as if they have a genetic connection to the environment and to storms. It distorts itself in times of affluence, but resurfaces in times of need,’ he said.
Mr. Urquhart thinks that, just as with the people of the Cayman Islands, the island’s plants will regenerate ‘Nature is such an interesting, but consistent energy source,’ he said, adding that, given time, the plant life will recover.
In the meantime, the West Indian Club Nursery continues to rebuild as it prepares to provide landscaping for the Dart Realty projects, including the multi-phase, multi-decade West Indian Club development, which is scheduled to get under way early next year.
Like many organizations, the nursery is looking at the lessons to be learned from Hurricane Ivan. ‘We’re in the process of comprehensively reviewing, from the storm’s perspective, everything we are doing,’ said Mr. Urquhart. ‘It doesn’t necessarily mean we change anything. But we’d like to improve on some things like hurricane preparedness.’