Brac still recovering from Paloma

Six months after Hurricane Paloma wreaked havoc on Cayman Brac, the island is still getting back on its feet.

A drive along the island’s coastline reveals properties that have either collapsed or remain badly damaged, but District Commissioner Ernie Scott said some of buildings that look so dramatically damaged were already derelict.

‘A lot of those buildings you see at Watering Place were derelict long before the hurricane struck,’ he said, adding that he was trying to locate the owner of one of the buildings to clear up the debris.

Blue tarpaulin remains a common sight on the island, acting as a stand-in for roofs on homes still undergoing repair.

Hotels and condos on the west part of the island were badly hit in the Category 4 hurricane, and there are still very few rooms on the Brac for tourists or visitors.

The island has been effectively closed to tourists since 9 November last year when 145mph winds slammed it, bringing powerful storm surges. Most buildings on the Brac were damaged and some totally destroyed.

The 41-room Brac Reef Resort is months away from re-opening as it undergoes extensive reconstruction work to replace buildings that were seriously damaged in the hurricane. Its bar and restaurant, however, are open.

The partially destroyed Cayman Breakers Condominiums remains under reconstruction, and work is continuing on several of the condos at Carib Sands.

Hopes of soon reviving the island’s tourism trade hinge on the new 31-room Alexander Hotel, scheduled to open next month.

One of the busiest recent weekends on the island since the hurricane was last weekend, when the meagre number of rooms available was snapped up by visitors attending a Chamber of Commerce election forum, a sea swim and a fishing tournament.

During the forum, Cayman Airways came under fire from electoral candidates who said the standard of flight services was detrimental to the island’s tourism.

The airline’s two Twin Otters, which ferry passengers between Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, were grounded this week, following several days of intermittent service. Flights between the two Sister Islands were cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday and passengers had to be carried by boat between the two islands because the one jet that services Cayman Brac is unable to land on the Little Cayman runway.

Meanwhile, for the people who live and work in Cayman Brac, life is still disrupted due to the storm.

The police are still housed in the University of Cayman Islands campus after the Brac’s police station was wrecked in the storm.

Families still remain in the trailers behind Watering Place. Of the 18 trailers on the site, 12 are occupied by those whose homes were destroyed and who have nowhere else to go.

Mr. Scott said the trailer occupants had a 12-month agreement to stay in the trailers, and most had moved in over the New Year. ‘I don’t know if that will need to be extended,’ he said.

According to government statistics released earlier this year when Prince Edward visited the Brac to examine the destruction, about 95 per cent of the buildings on the Brac suffered damage in Paloma. Of the 1,207 buildings, only 195 escaped unscathed, while 56 were destroyed; 182 sustained major damage; 231 had medium damage; and 543 had minor damage.

So far, the National Recovery Fund has spent about $600,000 of the $800,000 raised by the private sector and government to rebuild 30 destroyed homes. Mr. Scott said about another 150 more houses were undergoing extensive repairs paid for by other donations, and building work paid for by individuals and insurance companies was ongoing.

‘It’s a work in progress,’ he said.

Debris still litters the roadside and seashore across the island. A clean-up operation, sponsored by several companies on the island, which includes teams from construction companies, as well as volunteers from the High School and the Cayman Brac Rotary Club, will take place on 9 May.

Organisers of the clean-up say boats, trucks and other equipment is being donated, and they are appealing for volunteers from the Brac and Grand Cayman to assist.

At the historic Spellman McLaughlin House, near Creek, work is underway on the damaged roof of the building which sheltered 130 people during the devastating 1932 hurricane.

Although, the house withstood Paloma, it suffered extensive damage, especially to its roof.

Repair work on the roof was originally done by a local contractor for $15,000, but has had to be redone by Phoenix Construction, said owner Brunzil Rivers.

‘An inspector came to look at the house and said there was no way I could get it insured in that condition,’ she said, adding that plywood that had been put in place was peeling from the roof and ice and water shields have had to be replaced.

Mrs. Rivers said insurance would pay for about another $10,000 worth of repairs, but anything over that would have to come out of her own pocket.

‘I’ve had people from all over the world come to look at my house, tourists who’ve read about it and wanted to see it. It really made me upset when I saw what a mess was made of the place,’ she said, referring to the original repair work.

James Moses, from Phoenix Construction, is appealing for funds to be made available to help repair the building.

‘It is impossible to place a value on this distinctive, unique piece of artwork which deserves proper rejuvenation. This structure needs to be treated with care and should be restored to its original condition as close as possible with modern materials available,’ he said recently in a letter to MLAs appealing for restoration funds.

The house was built between 1926 and 1930 by Mrs. Rivers’ father Captain Spellman McLaughlin, and is featured by the Cayman Islands National Trust as one of the islands’ important historical buildings.

Work is also underway to try to repair the Veterans’ and Seamen’s Centre on the Bluff. HSBC Bank last month donated $100,000 to help repair the site before this year’s hurricane season begins.

Although the centre has been used as a hurricane shelter and could withstand winds of up to 115mph, it will be rebuilt back to withstand Category 4 winds, similar to the standard of the Aston Rutty Centre.

Phone lines and internet connections have been restored to the entire islands, according to telecom provider LIME, formerly Cable and Wireless.

The company’s marketing manager Julie Hutton said: ‘Everywhere is back on the Brac, there’s full restoration,’ she said. ‘On Little Cayman however, we’re still waiting for poles to be put up.’