Dennis Hue is an artist by trade but during the hurricane he had to draw on other skills. From handyman to rescue worker to cook, the local landscape painter managed to help out hundreds sheltering from the storm, relying on instinct – and a good deal of daring – when Ivan was raging all around.
‘I’m just privileged to have had the chance to do for my country,’ Hue said in an interview. ‘It’s given me a new dimension in life.’
Hue depicts a dramatic rescue he made during the storm in a work titled Shattered, which is on display at the National Gallery as part of the group exhibit Emergence.
‘It was easy for me to create. My work of art and my story is a true one – I lived it.’
The piece shows Hue about to enter the shattered home of a woman and her three-week-old baby the night of the hurricane. As water rose above the windowsill, the family had to put the baby in an empty fridge to stay afloat. Hue helped rescue both, along with three other family members, from the devastated apartment in Industrial Park.
‘You just couldn’t believe anybody could be alive in a building like that.’
It was one of many rescue missions Hue made during the hurricane, driving in pitch blackness through the pounding wind and rain over roads littered with fallen trees, power poles and debris. At one point, he had to get out of the van to clear cables that had jammed the vehicle.
‘There was a sense of, ‘what if they didn’t turn off the electricity?’ The lines were touching you. I felt fearful too of the deep waters because I don’t swim well.’
Hue decided to weather the storm at the John Gray High School shelter, arriving late Saturday. When the winds picked up ‘all the problems started to arrive.’
Water began slowly leaking in through the building. They were minor leaks, but could make life miserable because people were sleeping on the floor. He began tending to the leaks when he noticed the windows starting to bulge. Though they were outfitted with hurricane shutters, the windowsills were rotted and began caving in. The doors were also shaking. Hue mobilized a crew to help reinforce the windows and doors, using boarding materials that were on hand at the shelter. A wooden hammer he’d brought along proved to be a blessing -it took awhile to locate the shelter’s toolkit.
When the window in the attic began bulging, the crew made a makeshift ladder from chairs so Hue could reach it.
‘That was the scariest time because I had to stand in front of the window. I felt the danger then. Spray was coming through the rotted seams of wood. I said a prayer then.’
When word came through the CB radio that the roof had collapsed on the nearby medical shelter in Isley Conolly Hall, Hue sprang into action.
‘By this time, I wanted to get out of the building. I suffer from claustrophobia, and the place was over-jammed, sweltering. I just wanted to go.’
Hue ran across the compound amid howling winds and flying debris, assessing the safest way to move people through the storm. He took in an alarming scene when he arrived.
‘The roof was completely blown off, the insulation was on top of the people and water cascaded on top of everybody.’
Officials quickly assessed priority patients that needed to be taken to the hospital, mainly elderly people. Hue volunteered to drive them in a van loaned by a shelter resident. Medical personnel transporting a seriously ill patient in another vehicle followed him.
It was a harrowing drive.
‘You couldn’t tell where the road was. You had to rely on your instincts. Somehow, we managed to get through.’
It was chaos when he arrived at the hospital. The building was in darkness since the generator had given out. Hundreds of people had flocked to the hospital seeking shelter.
Hospital officials approached Hue to transfer some of them to a nearby shelter, assuring him damages to the loaned vehicle would be covered. He set out again in the raging storm. Many of his passengers were terrified.
‘I realized I had to try to calm them down so I told them I was the best driver in Cayman – I’ve been driving 32 years without an accident.’
Hue can’t remember how many trips he made but guesses it was more than a dozen. He made several side trips as well, including the rescue mission to Industrial Park.
After his final trip, fatigue caught up with him. Suffering from hypothermia and feeling the full effects of a flu he’d been nursing earlier, Hue was exhausted. Hospital staff gave him warm clothes to change into, and medical staff tended to him.
He eventually returned to John Gray with the van but was given a less than warm welcome. The person who had loaned the vehicle was angry about the damages – and let him know.
It was a down point for Hue though he prefers to look at the whole experience in a positive light. That’s reflected in his artwork – amid the darkness there is a tinge of blue sky.
‘I’ve always believed that out of the dark, there is some hope of light.’
Hue continued to lend a hand after the storm, helping some recover their vehicles and doing odd jobs and repairs at the shelter. He also cooked for those sheltering at the Community College, a skill he’d honed during his 15 years as a restaurateur.
He’s planning to do a series of works on the hurricane, injecting humour and hope within them.
‘Cayman emerged as a very resilient nation after all the devastation. What I saw was unity and love for each other and my wish is for this to prevail even after the healing has taken place.’
Hue said he emerged from the hurricane with a greater sense of self.
‘I’m stronger. I’m more confident. There’s hardly anything I cannot face from now on.’