On September 2, there was news of a hurricane looming in the Atlantic, but it was too far away for me to start worrying. I mean the possibility of the hurricane being a 5+++ definitely was not something that was on my mind. So that night, my family went out for an absolutely wonderful dinner at Coconut Grove restaurant located on Dickenson Bay’s beach. As we ate, we looked over at the water and couldn’t help but take note of how close the tide was coming onto the sand. I know this generally tends to happen at night and no, it is not my hap to be at the beach at night to notice any changes in this process but my interest about the hurricane increased.
As the week rolled in, I learnt that Irma (as by now you would have known the name of the now infamous system) was constantly strengthening. I believe that it was on Monday that I watched our hurricane watch become a hurricane warning and my anxiety and feeling of helplessness surfaced. The general manager of Antigua& Barbuda’s state media sent me the notice and I forwarded it to my sister. I was simply informing my sister of what was to be as I had no power of diverting this storm. My voice couldn’t calm the ocean and I knew prayers had been lifted up by persons to many gods before their imminent demise owing to natural disasters or man- made evils to no avail. However, in my resolve that what would happen will, I just hoped for the best.
The news was filled with updates on this beast named Irma. I couldn’t hide from her. She was too big and had her let her presence be made known to too many for me to avoid being reminded of her increasing, unprecedented power. People who would barely post to Facebook posted stating their absolute fear of facing a hurricane that was a category 5. The sounds of people making their preparations added to the sense of urgency. However, on Tuesday morning while I made last minute preparations as my mom, my sister and myself were going to head to my aunt’s to ride out the storm, I found it difficult to move. I was glued to the radio. Local meteorologists warned the Antiguan& Barbudan people that even if the hurricane was to make a last minute shift north, it would not be of much benefit to us because the system was so big we were still going to be quite close to the eye of the storm. However, my sister came back from work early as workers were dismissed earlier than usual to make preparations and it gave me the strength to do what needed to be done to see the “best” results after the storm.
Our shutters were closed, our furniture covered and pictures and trinkets taken down from the walls and we headed to my aunt’s home that is located more in central Antigua. Mind you, we don’t live close near the coast or in low lying areas, however, we just wanted to feel as safe as possible and thought that moving would have been the best option and the added company would have provided solace under such unfavorable circumstances.
My aunt’s 6 boys were over at her place including her newlywed son and his wife who hails from Barbuda. Every one was just wondering what the outcome of what this category 5+++ hurricane would be. I told my sister that if we made it out alive, we would have made it through the storm successfully. I started envisioning our house being cast to shambles or at least our roof being blown off. We’ve never suffered those circumstances in precious storms but Irma was not like prior storms. She was in a category of our own.
Around 8 p.m., the electricity went off and I felt like the beginning of the end had started. During the days before the storm and especially on that Tuesday, it was exceedingly hot. The night was also quite warm… and quiet. There was consistent light rainfall that I cannot remember the starting time of. I could hear the winds start to pick up as it edged towards 9 p.m. and there were some gusts that caused my heart rate to increase because I imagined that the weather would only get worse. At this time, most of my cousins had departed in different quarters of the house and her eldest son was asleep in the living room. My mom, sister, aunt and myself laid down in my aunt’s bed (it’s a big bed :D) awaiting what we were sure would be an epic arrival by Irma. From time to time I would head into the living room where I would see my cousin sleeping which was quite understandable because there was not much action going on. Around after 10 p.m., I believe, we looked through the glass door in my aunt’s room and saw one of my aunt’s neighbors outside. 😦 Some of my cousins had come into the bedroom, wondering why the neighbor was outside… and where was Irma. At around 11: 45 p.m., I started listening to a local radio station, Vybz FM where an international meteorologist provided updates and said that we could expect the storm to be at its strongest at 1 a.m. and at 3a.m. , we could expect hurricane conditions to weaken and continue to weaken at 5 a.m. Time seemed to go quickly and I remember my aunt and me checking her phone at 12:30 a.m. and feeling convinced that we would not feel the brunt of Irma’s wrath as it was so quiet, she would have a lot of work to do to become a monster at 1. However, I still couldn’t sleep and listened on as people called in to the radio station saying they were fine although someone said that his roof had blown off and he was calling in from under his bed but I am not sure whether this incident of a house being damaged to that extent in Antigua is confirmed. As persons from the eastern side of the island checked in on the radio station as safe, my aunt reassured my mom that our home would be in tact when we returned home. Four of us, listened hopefully as we laid on the bed.
It was just before 2 a.m. I believe when the deeayj said that he wanted callers from Barbuda to call in as he wanted to hear how they were faring the storm. Shortly after he said that it appeared that all contact with the sister isle had been lost. At 2 a.m. in Antigua, it was almost completely quiet. The rain had eased up and the wind had been stilled for a moment before rain started falling again. I felt that we were going to be okay. I was put at ease and I eventually fell asleep.
At around 8 the following morning, we drove home. Confident that we had a home to go to and an Antigua with some level of normalcy, we could think about our regular plans and interests because Irma was now a thing of the past. We had made it out alive and with no damage to property. A statement from our prime minister was forwarded to me stating that we were all spared… but then, later on, Prime Minister Gaston Browne visited Barbuda by helicopter being the one to enlighten us that Barbuda’s housing stock had suffered 90% damage in his estimation and that a toddler had lost his life. Barbuda, located 61.5 k north-west of Antigua was a completely different scene from the damp but in tact properties in Antigua. It was devastating. Even though I tried to prepare myself for the possibility of a desolate Antigua on Tuesday morning, it was difficult to imagine it actually happening to people in the sister island considering that we were safe in Antigua.
Barbuda after Irma Photo Credit: ABS Television/ Radio FB page
Barbudans leaving Barbuda. Photo credit: ABS Television/ Radio FB page
However, in the midst of it all, the Antiguan people pulled together to evacuate the people of Barbuda and to provide the needs for Barbudans. I might write another post about the outpouring of support shown by my people as including it in this post would make it longer than I would like. But what I learnt was that sometimes in life, you will have no control over what happens to you. It doesn’t mean that you are trying to victimize yourself or that you are making excuses, but there are situations in life where all you can do is hope for the best. In this case, residents of Antigua were spared but we could have easily been in the same state as the people in Barbuda. Life doesn’t provide us with reasons as why some things happen to some and why some things don’t and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It’s just life, we’re only human and we don’t have control over it all.