The Cayman Islands dodged a bullet when Hurricane Gustav veered to the northwest and went in between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands on Friday.
In addition, the storm’s interaction with Jamaica kept it from strengthening too much before it passed through the Cayman Islands. But the storm intensified quickly from a Category 1 hurricane to Category 4 strength as it headed toward western Cuba Saturday.
Although Gustav did cause some damage to the islands – particularly to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – there were no deaths attributed to the storm and only two minor injuries reported.
The George Town area of Grand Cayman never experienced tropical storm force winds, although gusts of about 50mph were recorded at the airport around 2am Saturday, when Gustav made its closest point of approach to Grand Cayman, said meteorologist Alan Ebanks of the Cayman Islands National Weather Service. The centre of Gustav came about 52 miles from Grand Cayman, he added.
‘The winds in North Side and East End were probably a little stronger because the storm was a little closer up there,’ he said.
The storm did knock out power for some residents, although not for everyone, said Richard Hew, president and CEO of Caribbean Utilities Company.
‘We are fortunate on Grand Cayman to have been spared the full intensity of the storm and were able to maintain power throughout the night for most of our customers.’
Parts of North Side lost power around 9.30 Friday night and did not have it restored until about 4pm Saturday. The South Sound area lost power around 12.30am Saturday and had it restored around 9.30am. Areas in West Bay and Newlands also lost power for extended periods of time.
Gustav did not bring the expected heavy rainfall to Grand Cayman either, at least not to the George Town area. The National Weather Service measuring device only recorded 8.9 mm – about ¾ inch – of rain during the 24-hour period between 7am Friday and 7am Saturday. The Sister Islands received much more rain, although exact measurements were unavailable as of yet.
Things were much different on the Sister Islands. Gustav came about 33 miles from Cayman Brac and about 28 miles from Little Cayman on its closest point of approach said Mr. Ebanks. The storm downed trees, power lines and light poles, and washed away docks on the Sister Islands. The two reported injuries from the storm occurred when a couple taking photographs from a dock in Little Cayman were washed into the sea as the storm approached.
Maximum recorded sustained winds on Cayman Brac were 57 mph, with gusts up to 84 miles per hour, Mr. Ebanks said.
As late as Thursday evening, the National Hurricane Center in Miami forecasted the eye of Gustav to pass over or come a short distance of Grand Cayman. However, the storm took longer than expected to traverse the southern coast of Jamaica as it travelled in a westerly direction. As a result, the storm took its expected turn to the west-northwest and then northwest much closer to Jamaica, sparing Grand Cayman a direct hit. The storm also picked up forward speed as it made its turn, allowing it to pass through the area more quickly and before it had a chance to intensify too much.
Governor Stuart Jack agreed the Cayman Islands were fortunate.
‘We were blessed not to have a more powerful storm,’ he said. ‘I feel very sorry for those people up in Cuba who [faced] this Category-4 storm and who knows where it is going to go next … I think we were lucky we didn’t get it worse than we did.’
Mr. Jack also commented on the way the government and residents prepared for the storm.
‘I’ve been impressed, both on Grand Cayman and [Cayman Brac], that Government agencies have been well prepared,’ he said. ‘I think the general public has been quite well prepared. A lot of people have done the right thing – shuttered up houses, got in provisions … The level of preparedness with Dean last year was quite good and it was even better this year.’
No curfew was imposed during the approach of Gustav, and Mr. Jack explained why.
‘We thought about it, but the conclusion we reached is that we weren’t expecting the kind of storm of the likes of Ivan or Dean,’ he said. ‘This time we weren’t expecting to be hit so bad and we weren’t too concerned about issues during the night. We were reasonably confident we could keep police on the roads; therefore, we didn’t want to create the extra inconvenience that a curfew causes.
‘If, during the night, the situation had changed, if there were problems out on the street, then we would have imposed a curfew,’ he added. ‘We kept it under review and we decided that when we all locked down that there wasn’t really the necessity.’