EDITORIAL – ‘After Ivan’: Reflections on an anniversary

“Cayman Islands residents are picking up the pieces as they prepare to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, which left almost every building damaged in Grand Cayman, with some being destroyed.

“A survey of the destruction points to it being nothing short of a miracle that there has been no reported loss of life.”

So began the lead story of the Caymanian Compass on Friday, Sept. 17, 2004 – the first issue published after Hurricane Ivan brought 160 mph winds and cataclysmic flooding to Grand Cayman, 14 years ago today.

For the portion of our population who were not present when the hurricane hit, it is somewhat difficult to express (but nearly impossible to overstate) the impact that Ivan had on the physical landscape and societal fabric of this country.

Perhaps the following anecdote can put Ivan’s devastation into context:

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, our publishers David and Vicki Legge (who at the time did not yet own the Compass) were in Florida, en route back to Cayman after a short visit to the States. They made it as far as Miami – but no farther.

With traditional communications lines out of service in Cayman, in a couple of days Mr. Legge managed to contact then-Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush via one of the country’s few working satellite phones. Being in touch with the organizers of a makeshift relief effort by Cayman residents in the U.S., Mr. Legge asked Mr. Bush a basic question: How can we help? What does Cayman need? Food, water, generators, supplies?

Mr. Bush replied: “Everything.”

Just as the Western World demarcates time according to a singular event – “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” – there are two distinct time periods in the modern history of Cayman – “Before Ivan” and “After Ivan.”

Now, we are in the midst of our seasonal vigil over the Atlantic Basin, currently frothing with tropical activity, including three hurricanes: Florence (Category 3 and strengthening rapidly), Helene (Category 2) and Isaac (Category 1); as well as an unnamed system that lashed Grand Cayman with rain and wind on Monday, and that has 50 percent odds to develop into a tropical storm within the week.

According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, Florence is projected to slam into the U.S. Eastern Seaboard as a major hurricane on Thursday or Friday, while Helene’s five-day track puts it nearer to Newfoundland than the Caribbean. Of the trio of named storms, only Isaac is forecast to pose a potential threat to Cayman.

The Compass will continue monitoring Isaac’s progress with attentiveness and concern.

If there is any portent of hope in hurricanes, it is to be found in the resilience of human beings and life in general. Organisms, and their habits, adapt and evolve.

Perhaps learning from their less-than-stellar responses to past disasters in British Overseas Territories, including Ivan in Cayman and hurricanes Irma and Maria last year in the Eastern Caribbean, U.K. officials have installed a new satellite communications system in Cayman, to maintain our country’s contact with the outside world when catastrophes occur. Supplied by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the system at the Government Administration Building has been tested and deemed ready for use immediately.

Our publisher distinctly recalls, after Ivan, gazing around at the obliterated foliage, blighted landscapes and dead brown grass … and thinking to himself that Cayman’s flora would never recover.

Today, 14 years “After Ivan,” surrounded by lush canopies, vibrant flowers and universal verdure, we can say, of course – of course – Cayman’s plants recovered. And so did the country.