In light of the recent Category 5 hurricanes the Caribbean has had to endure, 13 years to the day since the Cayman Islands suffered at the hands of its own worst hurricane in living memory, Hurricane Ivan, I thought it would be useful to take a look at what we have learned from our experiences and, more worryingly, what we have not learned.
After Hurricane Ivan there was a slew of building projects in the Cayman Islands that clearly took heed of the necessary safety measures introduced. In the main, this was to build sufficiently far back from the coastal edge and to build high enough above sea level to avoid the horrendous storm surge that at one point pretty much engulfed the island during Ivan.
Yet after that flurry of safe and secure construction, I have seen in recent years a gradual lapse into the old, bad ways in some instances, especially when it comes to building up high. The current codes require a structure to be built one foot above the road (which should be at least five feet above sea level.) This should be at a bare minimum, in my opinion, because storm surge can easily reach higher than that especially with the flat elevation of Grand Cayman. But it is one thing to build six feet above sea level if you are located centrally away from the coast; it is quite another to build just six feet up if you are on a canal or waterfront location, when greater consideration must be given to building high above sea level.
It might seem like a steep outlay when you are constructing a home to build one foot higher off the ground than you initially anticipated, but the cost might not be as much as you think. I do not think people give enough credence to the devastation of storm surge. We must learn from the past and from present-day events that thankfully, have spared the Cayman Islands but which have devastated our neighbors elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Another lesson that I believe is slowly being heeded is the need for adequate insurance for both your home and its contents. Some of the islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria will have had no insurance at all and will now have to rely on a considerable amount of goodwill of others to rebuild their lives. Make sure your insurance policy covers the rebuilding of your home and also think about using an insurance company that takes into consideration the hurricane provisions you already have built in for your home, when it comes to writing your premiums. They ought to take into consideration the type of construction you have (whether it’s poured concrete, concrete blocks, etc.), whether you have installed hurricane shutters and hurricane-resistant windows, and so on. Although it goes without saying that all our insurance premiums will go up next year because of the knock-on effects of Irma and Maria, a good insurance company will take these efforts into consideration and your premium should be less than if you haven’t made hurricane provisions, as a result.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria have served as a healthy reminder to us all in the Cayman Islands to take the necessary precautions to avoid catastrophe, should a hurricane strike.
James Bovell is broker/owner at RE/MAX Cayman Islands.