Everybody in the Cayman Islands has a story to tell about surviving Hurricane Ivan.
And, for one brave woman who lived through the terror of the storm, ensuring these tales are not forgotten has become a labour of love.
Terri Merren, 44, of Tropical Gardens in Grand Cayman, spent the months following the hurricane recording the extraordinary accounts of heroism and triumph over adversity.
And now she has written and published a book which recounts survival stories, as told in the words of the Cayman people themselves.
Terri told The Compass she felt compelled to compile to stories, despite never having written anything before.
‘After the storm I heard so many amazing tales of people who survived against all the odds,’ she said.
‘Everywhere I went somebody told me a story of survival, what they went through and what they did. I felt I just had to get them documented so that 50 years down the line people will not forget what happened.’
Terri moved to Cayman 20 years ago from her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, after she met her now-husband Gregory at college there.
The couple honeymooned in Cayman Brac, which was hit by the great hurricane of 1932.
‘In 1985, people there were still talking about that storm and although many of those stories were recorded, lots have now been lost,’ said Terri.
‘I didn’t want that to happen again.’
Terri has her own survival tale to tell, having lived through Ivan with her husband and children Josh, 14, and Zachary, 8, at the Citrus Grove Building in George Town.
They were in the fifth floor in offices owned by Gregory’s twin cousins Maxine and Maureen Bodden of Bodden Shipping.
‘I had been planning to leave the island but decided at the last minute to keep the family together,’ Terri recalled.
‘We chose to go to the Citrus Grove Building because we knew it had been built to withstand hurricanes.’
They huddled into offices with around 50 other families, spending from Saturday afternoon until Monday afternoon in the high-rise make-shift home, sleeping under desks.
‘There were hundreds of people in the building altogether and we were so grateful to be able to shelter there,’ said Terri.
Greg had a marine radio with which he was able to maintain contact with others.
‘People were calling for help, some up to their necks in water, and Greg rang 911 but of course there was nothing they could do. We really thought a lot of them would be dead,’ said Terri.
Sadly one Caymanian who did not make it through the hurricane was Mr. Osley C. Ebanks who had decided to ride out the storm on his 27-foot boat in West Bay.
As a memorial to those who did not survive Ivan, Terri has dedicated a page to the experienced seaman who lost his life.
‘It didn’t seem right just to have a book for the survivors without remembering the less fortunate,’ said Terri.
When finally leaving the shelter of the office building, Greg and Terri discovered their home in Tropical Gardens had been relatively unscathed.
But without light and water, it was difficult to manage and they decamped to live on their boat for a month.
‘Everyone had laughed at Greg tying down his boat with so many ropes and chains but it meant that it was okay.’
Aboard the 56-foot sport fisher, which was anchored at Coral Point, they had a generator, AC and an ice-maker.
‘For most people, the aftermath of the storm was actually worse than Ivan itself but we were a lot luckier than most,’ said Terri.
While Greg concentrated on rebuilding his business, Terri spent a lot of her time with people who had amazing stories to tell about the storm.
Armed with a tape recorder, she painstakingly took down all the details and later put all the accounts together to form the book ‘Hurricane Ivan Survival Stories’.
‘It was a very emotional time, there were a lot of tears,’ she revealed.
It was also a therapeutic time for Terri, who still has tears in her eyes when she recalls the effects the Category Five storm had on everyone in Grand Cayman.
‘My family really were blessed and I hope by publishing this book that we can give back something for what we received,’ she said.