‘It was a painful moment, seeing the water rising and knowing there was nothing more one could do to save the documents,’ said Head of Archive and Records Management at the National Archive, Jan Liebaers.
He was explaining the damage caused by Hurricane Ivan to the Governor, Mr Bruce Dinwiddy, and Mrs Emma Dinwiddy on their recent visit to the National Archive.
Mr. Liebaers and two other staff members were in a strong room on the ground floor the night of the storm, when water flooded through a door. ‘We were trying to pack record boxes higher, but the water rose too fast and we had to run upstairs,’ he said.
The tidal surge caused extensive damage to the ground floor of the National Archive where many semi-active government documents were stored. Until now, recovery operations have mainly focused on treating thousands of those records as well as others recovered from government offices, said Director Dr. Philip Pedley.
‘The full treatment of these records is a long, technical, and costly process. I commend my staff for working under difficult circumstances, while still dealing with daily requests for documents from all departments,’ he said.
Six freezer-containers are being used to freeze about 5,000 boxes of records while they await processing. The Archive has two freeze-drying machines on loan from Belfor (UK), each of which dries 20 boxes every two weeks. Drying capacity will soon increase, however, when a much bigger freeze-dryer arrives from Belfor (Canada). The new dryer will be able to handle 280 boxes at a time.
After reviewing the progress made with the document recovery task, Mr Dinwiddy met with staff, thanking them for their hard work.
‘I realize that the hurricane was a big blow to the National Archive, especially since it has always been known locally and throughout the Caribbean for its high standards in all areas, but you have come a long way in the recovery process in four months,’ he said.
Work on a purpose-built extension to the Archive will start soon. The extension is designed to protect records and archives, especially in light of natural disasters, and will include a large Reading Room that can be used as an administrative centre for government immediately after a hurricane.
The new building will also house front-line equipment for Computer Services to protect the electronic records of government. It will have emergency power and freezer capacity so that water-damaged records from other government offices can be treated on site.