I have never been to the island of Barbuda, truth is I didn’t even know there was an island of Barbuda, and now Mother Nature has made sure I will probably never go there. Hurricane Irma destroyed the small Caribbean nation leaving its reported 1600 inhabitants with nothing more than debris to use to rebuild with. It’s heartbreaking to look at the pictures, to see tall palm trees without any fronds standing on the beach looking like poles in the sand. Homes and businesses reduced to rubble and people wandering about with nowhere to go, in shock looking for any supplies they might find to ensure their immediate survival. Even though aid is on the way from all around the world, life that was already tough enough is going to be a whole lot tougher in the foreseeable future.
There are hurricanes every year in the south. Storms that develop out in the Atlantic and grow as they move towards North America, sometimes they dissolve into just bad weather by the time they make landfall and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they miss land entirely and sputter out without most of us ever knowing they existed and sometimes they don’t. Hurricane Irma was a Category ‘sometimes they don’t’.
Hurricane Irma, Mother Nature’s devil spawn, was the biggest hurricane ever seen coming out of the Atlantic. It built itself up to a Category 5 hurricane before it slammed into the Leeward Islands, diminished then rebuilt again. 5,4,3,4,5,4… it kept regenerating before it would attack another island until it finally made landfall for the last time in the state of Florida. In its wake a path of destruction that left few places untouched.
Hurricane Irma started developing just before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, and because there was already so much weather coverage on television it was mentioned early and often. Irma was growing to never seen before proportions out in the Atlantic and started to move with purpose towards the Caribbean on the worst possible path imaginable. While the streets of Houston resembled those of Venice and the people of Texas were returning to survey what remained of their lives, Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean.
As some of you might know Hurricane Irma was of special interest to me because of its projected path. It was headed right towards the Dominican Republic, a place where I have friends and friends that have friends. I was keeping close watch on what was transpiring, I even found a website that allowed me to watch live video feeds from different locations throughout the Caribbean islands as the storm approached. I watched those feeds for days until one by one they disappeared, some never to return. It took days for Irma to track from the outward Leeward Islands to Cuba. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion!
I started communicating with Wendy at the Playa Paraiso en Magante (PPeM) on Monday, about 5 days before Irma was scheduled to be there. I felt a bit stupid sending her a message that there was a VERY big storm coming her way but you never know what information is getting to the different islands and I would feel horrible if Wendy was caught off guard. She already knew but was gracious in telling me so. They were preparing for the storm.
I can imagine there are similarities when it comes to all storm preparation. Tie everything you can down, stock up on fuel, food, water and then get you and your family to a safe location and ‘hunker’ down for the duration. If it is necessary you evacuate, just get your ass out of the way. But when you live on an island where evacuation is out of the question, home is where you ride out a hurricane. That is what I’m sure Wendy and her family did. I imagined they were in their home, away from the Playa and ‘hunkering down’. I had to think this because Thursday around 10am the area lost power and I lost touch with Wendy.
All I had was CNN coverage and the only pictures coming out of the Caribbean were of the massive destruction of Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. I watched as the computer images on television showed Irma’s eye (the most destructive part) tracking some 50 miles north of the Dominican Republic, it took a day and a half for the storm to finally pass as its core regenerated. Building to a Category 5 (as big as it gets) before slamming into Cuba. I received my first communication from the Dominican Republic on Friday but not from Wendy.
I returned from work on Friday around 4pm CDT. When I checked my e-mail there was a ‘last-minute’ booking request for PPeM for Friday!! Oh Crap!!! In all my watching the news about the storm and worrying about the people I knew there, I had forgotten to close off the booking calendars at the numerous different sites we advertize on!! Some fool thinks we’re open and he’s on his way to the Playa!! I don’t even know if there is a playa let alone a cabana to sleep in! For all I know all our beds are in Haiti!! I send a reply e-mail via the booking agent telling him that we are closed due to the storm and hope he gets it before he tries to get to PPeM, it was almost 7pm local time. What person in his right mind would think that a B&B on the beach would be open during a hurricane? What kind of person would think it would be a good idea to go sleep on the beach during a hurricane?? A desperate one I would later find out.
On Saturday afternoon I received pictures and videos from both Ginger and Wendy showing me that results from the passing of Irma as it made its way to Cuba. My friends and their friends were all safe and had weathered the storm like they had many others. Even though Irma passed close to the north shore of the DR, it had been rebuilding its core and had been drawing energy from its outer rings, which meant that the wind speed had been reduced and had actually blown from the island to the sea rather than the opposite. The Playa Paraiso en Magante sat tucked in the corner of the bay and the winds had been deflected by the mountainous terrain surrounding the area. Yes there was crap everywhere, but all the buildings had withstood the winds and they all still had their thatch roofs!! Two days later Wendy had the place cleaned up and was open for business. The last two pictures are of the playa taken the day after Irma and two days after that, they are taken from the same spot.
The story of the desperate traveler is a simple one. A couple from Germany were travelling in the Dominican Republic and were staying in Rio San Juan when the storm hit. The place they were staying in took substantial damage during the night and they were forced to vacate. How they were able to access the internet I do not know but the booking agent computer told the man we were open and he could stay there. He couldn’t believe his good fortune and made the reservation immediately. It’s a computer and had no way of knowing the DR was under siege from Hurricane Irma, so it took the booking and sent me an e-mail telling me so. The couple actually made it the 12 kilometers to the beach and were informed that it was closed until the storm had completely passed. I would later learn through communication with the would-be, except for a hurricane guest, that with the help of someone at PPeM, they were able to find a place to stay that was dry and safe for that night.
It all turned out well, at least for those on the north shore and the Playa Paraiso en Magante. Hurricanes I have learned are the most destructive of forces because of their size and no matter how lucky you are with one, there will always another one coming. That is the price you must pay for trying to live in paradise.