Hurricane Ivan still haunts survivors

Premier: 'We all need to be prepared'

For the latest information on storm activity in the Cayman Islands, as well as information on how to prepare for hurricane season, visit Storm Centre.

Sixteen years on, the memory of Hurricane Ivan still haunts Matthew Adam.

“I try to forget it… the water,” Adam, of Cayman Safari Adventures, told the Cayman Compass Friday as he recounted surviving the storm that ravaged Grand Cayman on 11 Sept. 2004.

Now, as the Caribbean enters the peak of what is predicted to be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record, Adam said he and his family remain cautious and try to be prepared for any oncoming storms.

“We definitely, as family, are a lot more mindful of looking at all these forecast tracks and everything, just praying that it does not come here, but we are definitely ready,” he said.

This week, the 17th named storm of the 2020 season, Tropical Storm Rene, emerged. It is one of six weather systems in the Atlantic basin that forecasters are keeping a close eye on.

Premier Alden McLaughlin pointed this out in a post on his official Facebook page as he remembered Hurricane Ivan.

“Many of us remember vividly the impact Hurricane Ivan had on Grand Cayman in 2004 and Hurricane Paloma when it hit Cayman Brac in 2008. We’re in the peak of storm season and the National Hurricane Centre are currently tracking 6 systems. We all need to be prepared,” McLaughlin said.

Six weather disturbances, including two named storms, are currently keeping forecasters busy.- Image: NHC

Cayman’s National Weather Service Director General John Tibbetts, in his message on the peak hurricane season, said residents should note tropical storms Paulette and Rene are currently located east of the Caribbean and are both moving northwest, but said neither is forecast to impact the Cayman Islands.

“We will also note that there are two other systems just coming off the coast of Africa that have a fairly good chance that they will form or develop into tropical systems. These systems are very far away from the Cayman Islands and so getting alarmed about them right now does not make sense. We need to see exactly where these forecast tracks take them and you’re probably a week away from having to be very concerned about these systems,” he added in his message, which was shared by Government Information Services.

Researchers with the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project this month forecast that tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin would be above average during the first half of September. Current storm patterns indicate favourable conditions for Atlantic hurricane formation and intensification from 2-15 Sept., considered a peak period for the storm season.

Tibbetts pointed out that, early this year, Colorado State University predicted 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

“In terms of the total named storms, you will note that we’ve already accomplished or we’ve already had that number formed already,” he said. “What we’ve not formed so far are the hurricanes, and the Category 3 [storms] are the major hurricanes. So, as you get into the second half of the season, we can potentially expect a number of major type storms to develop around the area, if the forecast is to become accurate,” he said.

The Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project has revised its prediction for the number of named storms likely to occur this hurricane season, forecasting last month that there would be 24 named storms before the season ended.

Surviving Ivan

Hurricane Ivan reached Category 5 strength three times on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale as it crossed the Caribbean, and was considered the strongest hurricane on record that far southeast of the Lesser Antilles, according to the US National Hurricane Center report on the deadly storm.

For Adam, who was in his late 20s at the time, living through the massive storm is something that has stayed with him.

“The sound of the wind coming, I would never forget… the howling and being stuck. I was stuck at least a day and a half,” he said.

He said he was at his grandmother’s house on North Sound Road when the water started coming inside.

“There was one part of the door we could peep through to see outside, because everything else was shuttered up, and it looked like the ocean outside… it was nuts,” he recalled.

He said it was “almost like you could see the white caps going down the road”.

All of the family’s cars, he said, were flooded as the storm kicked up powerful sea surges.

“We were not as bad off as some people; I mean, we had water coming through, but when you talk to people who had to climb up on their kitchen counters, on their roofs… we were blessed from that standpoint,” Adam said.

Sea surges exceeded 10 feet and poured across the coastline, swamping inland areas; 81% of Cayman’s buildings were affected and hundreds were rendered unusable.

Winds exceeded 150 miles per hour.

The island was left without power and running water.

“The storm passed 21 miles southwest of George Town and it produced maximum sustained winds around 155 miles per hour, a storm surge for about eight to 12 feet, and waves of 20 to 30 feet,” Tibbetts said.

The only instrument that the National Weather Service had at that time that could confirm the wind speed was located in West Bay, and it measured 150 miles per hour and “shortly thereafter it was disabled”, he said.

Tibbetts remembers well his own brush with Hurricane Ivan.

He was on duty at the airport fire station with his older brother when the storm was approaching. At the time, the station also functioned as a shelter.

“I was lucky to have my wife, my two kids, my mother and my older brother in the building with me, as my older brother was working in the fire station and he brought them down from his house to the office,” he said. “Needless to say, during the passage of the hurricane there was a tremendous deal of stress put on the fire station itself and there were times when the firemen would look up into the ceiling to check the rafters and they said that they could see them vibrating because there was so much pressure on the roof of the building.”

Tibbetts said he was there to witness two surges of water come in.

The first surge, the milder of the two, came from the North Sound.

“[It] was produced by the fairly strong winds that piled up the water in the North Sound and the water gradually overflowed and flooded out the area around the fire station. Sunday morning is when the peak of the storm surge came from the hurricane itself and that caused the flooding of the bay where the fire trucks were located and it also flooded the building,” he said.

Julie Corsetti, of Deep Blue Images, recounted her Hurricane Ivan experience, saying her possessions were washed away in a whirlpool and ended in a condo area next door.

“I remember seeing a tag sticking out from the ground with ‘Corsetti’ and I pulled on it and it was my dive bag with my BCD and fins,” she said.

Corsetti also recalled finding four pieces of her Swarovski crystals among the debris.

At the time, she said, she and her husband were self-employed, with an eight-month-old baby, and so the reality of the financial loss was devastating.

She likened the current COVID-19 situation to the weeks and months after Ivan as Cayman’s tourism industry now is as severely impacted as it was back then.

“Overnight, at no fault of your own, you have no income,” she said, adding that the lockdown brought back memories of Hurricane Ivan for her – both good and bad.

“Everybody pitching together to rebuild back everything – in some weird way, it is similar to Ivan and the community coming back together,” she said.

Locals are supporting the dive companies and the artists, which has been comforting, Corsetti said.

“The Caymankind that I have seen after Ivan, the community pulling together, the support after Ivan, the coming together to rebuild… it was here after COVID. People are buying my photos, my artwork, and from other people,” she said.

It was the sound of the wind throughout the storm that Simon Boxall remembers most.

“I had a sense that Hurricane Ivan was a serious threat,” he said, “so with my daughter only being 6 months old at the time, my wife and I decided that it would be best if she and my daughter left, so they flew up to Miami.

“I rode the hurricane out in a large office building in George Town. The sound of the wind is something I will never forget – it sounded like a jet engine.”

His home was not as badly impacted as many others on island, he said, though his roof and drywall were damaged. He had no power until around Christmas and no water for about a month.

“I prepared well prior to the hurricane. I had about seven cases of bottled water and quite a lot of non-perishable food. I had also raised everything up as high as possible and wrapped a lot of items up in heavy duty plastic bags. Some of my close family members suffered a lot of damage to their homes. I was fortunate that because I was prepared I was able to help others,” said Boxall, who is now the acting director of communications at Hazard Management Cayman Islands.

“I highly recommend getting as prepared as possible – for me it really paid off,” he added.

He advises residents to stock up on non-perishable food and bottled water, to find a safe place to ride out a hurricane, and to keep on hand a little cash, a flashlight, a radio and a cooler filled with ice. He also advises keeping vital documents in sealed water-tight containers and finding an elevated location for your vehicle.

For her part, Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Danielle Coleman reiterated her message for residents to be prepared as she also reflected on Hurricane Ivan.

“We’re hitting the peak of the hurricane season and, given that this day in history, 16 years ago, the Cayman Islands was seriously, detrimentally impacted by Ivan, we really, really want to encourage the public to be ready for all hazards,” Coleman said.

She asked that residents utilise the resources of the Hazard Management website

“We are really encouraging the public this weekend to spend a few minutes and a few hours [to] look at the hurricane supplies, looking at their plans, and making sure that they’re ready for any eventuality,” she added.

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