Tuesday, August 07, 2018

2017 hurricane stress - photos

The following description puts the photos in the link at the bottom into some sort of perspective. The photos and videos in the link will be moving to some of the Barbudans involved in last summer's tragic distaster.

In late August 2017 I saw a long range forecast which looked like a big hurricane would be coming our way. At that time our Atlantic rowing boat was still in the British virgin islands where we had rowed almost a month before. There was no time to waste so later that night after clearing customs immigration I left with two friends for the Virgin Islands on our powerboat. We needed to retrieve the rowboat and tow it 200 miles back to Antigua before any threat of a hurricane. People in Nanny Cay Marina were already panicking. Somehow they knew that the island would be devastated in less than a week. We collected the boat and immediately turned around back towards Sint Maarten. At Bobbys Marina, Sir Bobby told us that despite all forecasts saying the storm would go north he was 100% certain it was coming to destroy Sint Martin in a few days. He was getting his companies and his associates ready for a mega hurricane. While we sat around the marina table st sunset drinking beers and talking about old wooden sloops, sailing and fishing, I was still sure the storm would miss the Caribbean. My crew, Shamel and Guilli were not too happy with Sir Bobby's confidence that a disaster was approaching. The next morning we left early towing the row boat back to Antigua. By the time we had completed those last 100 miles, the surge was starting to "roll" across Five Islands Harbour at the entrance to jolly harbour. I was a little frustrated to see that each day the computer models' forecast tracks had shifted further to the south. While still forecast to track north of our Leeward Islands, Hurricane Irma was now rapidly strengthening and getting too close for comfort even though three days away. Each forecast pulled her closer to us and by the next day I started to realize that because of the trip to collect the row boat, I'd be pressed for time in getting by boats and house prepared. It wasn't that it had crept up on me as I'd been watching the forecasts for a week but unlike Sir Bobby, I just placed too much confidence in the forecast tracks which all placed it pushing north of the islands. The marinas were full and I couldn't get space for all of our boats. We had to tie them down as best we could. Irma kept getting closer despite the forecasts and as the sun set before her arrival, I knew that if she didn't turn north and we got a direct hit, then my business and life as I knew it would be changed forever. I don't think I slept a wink and late in the night when the now category 5 storm finally moved a bit to the north I almost cried with relief. Up until that point I was telling my mom and other people close to me not to worry and that all the super computers were in agreement that IRMA would go north. I was faking my optimism and bravery just in an attempt to keep them calm. A few of them were panicking. The North turn was too close though as you can see from the screenshots I took. Barbuda was going to get hit hard. There was zero communication until late the next afternoon when my friend Greg took the PM and a camera crew to Barbuda in the helicopter. Upon his return we heard that over 90% of the homes had been damaged or totaled and that one young child had died. I knew that they would need water and food and organized a small team to go the next morning. Friends in jolly harbour supplied food and water. While that was being organized, i spoke to Carlo Falcone from Antigua Yacht Club and Marina who was also doing the same thing. He called me later in the night to say that the Coast Guard had told him that boats were not permitted to go. It was not 24 hours after the storm but we both knew that things would get desperate soon and decided to  go anyway but to keep it quiet. My team left by 8 the next morning. It was still rough at that point, just 30 hours after the deadly hurricane had touched down in Barbuda. Greg, the chopper pilot had told me that the lagoon had been breached in several spots so I figured that we could go straight up to Codrington village. We were the first boat into the lagoon and the first to arrive at the fisheries dock. We didn't know what to expect and for safety we decided to drop me and another crew off so that we could speak to police or defence force guys first before we came to the dock with supplies. The coast guard had arrived at River Dock earlier that morning and had brought some polices and troops to setup base at the Japanese Fisheries plant. We got the boat onto the dock and offloaded. I was told that there was going to be a council organized meeting at the airport to discuss plans. I went and listened. People seemed to be in shock and unaware of how bad things could become. There was compete devastation all around and dead creatures big and small in the tangled mess. My Barbudan friends didn't want to leave but some did. We offered the council to take whoever wanted to and ended up taking the first Barbuda evacuees back with us. I think we took 16 people. On the dock before we left, the mother of the child that was killed came and told us her story. Heartbreaking! The trip back was an emotional one but those on board were happy to be going. Half way over we realized that some of them didn't have anywhere to go in Antigua. We ended up taking them into town where they were collected by the National Office of Disaster Services. Nico organized lodging for some. Coming back into jolly harbour and knowing that I could have a hot shower and get into my nice dry bed felt strange. Thinking about what we'd just seen and what was going to happen to them was overwhelming. That night we planned another trip the next morning to take more food, water and animal feed. We left early and by the time we arrived we found out that because there was another storm approaching, the government had ordered a mandatory evacuation. We had so many wanting a ride that we left half our crew there planning to do two trips at least and took an almost overloaded trip back to st Johns. In fact, I had to "make some noise" on the dock in Barbuda before we left as too many were pushing and attempting to get on board. 24 hours before we had a hard time convincing people to come with us as most seemed calm and prepared to stay. Amazing what can happen a few days after a disaster when reality kicks in together with the threat of another storm looming. By this time boats of every description were helping to evacuate and the Venezuelan military were also helping. There was still no communication and by the time we dropped them off and came back to Barbuda, the military and police had forced all to leave the village and go up the coast to the grassy strip where the Venezuelans were flying from. My crew that I left behind were forced to fly with them and while I tried to figure out where they were, the swells started to pick up at River Dock. We left two boats there and took off with the last few Barbudans that we could find.
Thankfully that storm did go north but the government and NODS decided not to let people go back home to Barbuda. So many people had left dogs, horses, sheep, goats and other animals penned or tied assuming that they'd be able to return after the storm threat. That didn't happen and the Barbuda disaster got worse. Dogs started hunting in packs and the trail of death and destruction only got worse. We did more and more trips with animal rights people, press, engineers, government people, aid workers and eventually with Barbudans. In the meantime there was another cat five hurricane east of the islands. Maria ended up smashing Dominica, and the Atlantic rowing team I was part of decided to take some supplies there as well. We had heard horror stories and felt like doing a run. It wasn't much and we knew that our boats were not designed to carry huge heavy loads long distance. Thankfully more help was on the way and there were no more storms on the horizon.
By the time Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers had to make our way to the Canary Islands to get ready for the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (a 3000 mile rowing race back to Antigua), Nico, John, Scott and myself were happy for the distraction. The summer had been a stressful one.
Here's in this link are some photos my Google account saved. I'll show a few below the link too.