The Great Hur­ri­cane

Stabroek News - - LETTERS -

Fac­ing an un­cer­tain fu­ture, batches of bat­tered Guyanese who have lost nearly ev­ery­thing in the re­cent hur­ri­canes fi­nally flew back home this week with few bags and their weather weary chil­dren. They are seek­ing once more to start over a new life, as a sym­bolic an­niver­sary passed qui­etly in an un­for­get­table year of fierce storms.

On the eve of the At­lantic’s big­gest known tem­pest, the weather proved “re­mark­ably calm” but “the sky sur­pris­ingly red and fiery” one his­tor­i­cal ac­count re­calls, with res­i­dents hav­ing no idea what was head­ing their way. Ac­knowl­edged sim­ply as the “Great Hur­ri­cane of the West Indies” it came long be­fore 2017’s five ma­jor events in­clud­ing the calami­tous Har­vey, Irma and Maria that will make this ex­tremely ac­tive sea­son po­ten­tially the costli­est, at al­ready well over US$187B in pre­lim­i­nary dam­ages.

Two days ago, sud­den deaf­en­ing thun­der­claps star­tled me and made the dogs shiver un­con­trol­lably, con­trast­ing with the gen­tle driz­zle that marked the som­bre grey af­ter­noon. But that other Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 10 of 1780, would send a su­per­storm which slammed straight into bliss­fully un­aware Bar­ba­dos and fur­ther dev­as­tated sev­eral pop­u­lous colonies as it roared across the Caribbean, caus­ing the re­gion to plunge into eco­nomic de­cline and likely lead­ing to the early end of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, me­te­o­rol­o­gists main­tain.

The clas­sic slow-mov­ing hur­ri­cane formed near the Cape Verde is­lands and curved south east, then west­ward lev­el­ling Bar­ba­dos into “to­tal ruin” where “no trees and houses were left stand­ing” and “the wind blew so strong that it stripped the bark off trees.” This year, look­ing at sim­i­lar stun­ning im­ages in Do­minica, ex­perts know that such acute ef­fects mean the Great Hur­ri­cane was a Cat­e­gory Five mon­ster with wind ve­loc­i­ties greater than 200 miles per hour, spawned be­cause of ex­cel­lent con­di­tions like high ocean tem­per­a­tures and low wind shear.

As if that was not enough, “an earth­quake was felt dur­ing the pas­sage of the Great Hur­ri­cane” and “the noise was so deaf­en­ing that peo­ple could not hear their own voices,” ac­cord­ing to notes from the Puerto Rico National Weather Ser­vice ac­ces­si­ble through the At­lantic Oceano­graphic and Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory (AOML) and the National Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA).

From Oc­to­ber 10-16, 1780 the Great Hur­ri­cane would sweep the is­lands in the An­tilles from Tobago to His­pan­iola, slaugh­ter­ing tens of thou­sands and be­com­ing the dead­li­est ever storm in this part of the world. Es­ti­mates of over­all fa­tal­i­ties range from at least 22,000 to 27,500 given the wide­spread scale of de­struc­tion and the count­less ships and sailors lost at sea. Since it passed close to Puerto Rico on Oc­to­ber 14, ob­served as the Feast Day of the mar­tyred Pope Cal­lix­tus the First, venerated as a saint by the Ro­man Catholic Church, it is also called the Hu­ra­can San Cal­ixto.

As in 2017, the ex­tra­or­di­nary 1780 At­lantic hur­ri­cane sea­son started early. From the first ma­jor St Lu­cia or San An­to­nio Hur­ri­cane on June 13 which killed thou­sands; three gi­ant storms, the sec­ond be­ing the Great Hur­ri­cane, rolled in con­sec­u­tively dur­ing Oc­to­ber that year, caus­ing record ca­su­al­ties and ex­ten­sive dam­age.

Form­ing in the south­ern Caribbean Sea on Oc­to­ber 1, 1780, the Sa­vanna-la-Mar Hur­ri­cane would first slam into the Bri­tish trans­port ship the Monarch, elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral hun­dred Span­ish prison­ers and the ship’s en­tire crew. It moved north­west to­wards Ja­maica, tak­ing out the ports of Sa­vanna-la-Mar and Lucea on Oc­to­ber 3, a day that had started clean, crisp and clear.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ja­maica Gleaner, the Gover­nor, Colonel John Dalling de­scribed the change in his of­fi­cial re­port to Lon­don: “The sky on a sud­den be­came very much over­cast, and an un­com­mon el­e­va­tion of the sea im­me­di­ately fol­lowed. Whilst the un­happy set­tlers at Sa­vanna-la-Mar were ob­serv­ing this ex­tra­or­di­nary phe­nom­e­non, the sea broke sud­denly in upon the town, and on its re­treat swept ev­ery­thing away with it, so as not to leave the small­est ves­tige of Man, Beast, or House be­hind.”

Blamed on the bitter curse of an ex­e­cuted Ja­maican obeah-man, Plato the Wizard, a run­away slave, this catas­tro­phe would wipe out all food crops re­sult­ing in a famine that meant thou­sands of slaves starved to death. A week later when the San Cal­ixto bar­relled in, Bar­ba­dos would suf­fer a sim­i­lar fate with some 4,300 dy­ing im­me­di­ately and more later en­dur­ing a slow and ag­o­nis­ing end from in­juries, in­ad­e­quate food, con­tam­i­nated wa­ter and dis­eases.

Shortly after, on Oc­to­ber 20, a third pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane would strike a Span­ish war fleet of 64 ves­sels un­der Cap­i­tan de Navio, José Solano en route from Havana, Cuba to at­tack Pensacola, Florida. Half of the 4,000 crew­men would drown in the dis­as­ter that is still termed cen­turies later as Solano’s Hur­ri­cane, which he sur­vived.

But the Great Hur­ri­cane re­mains un­equalled. In a 2002 com­mem­o­ra­tive article, For­mer Prin­ci­pal of the Caribbean In­sti­tute for Me­te­o­rol­ogy and Hy­drol­ogy (CIMH), Dr. Colin Depra­dine would re­call an in­struc­tive if wry quo­ta­tion by Dr. Gil­bert Blane who served aboard the HMS Sand­wich as the per­sonal physi­cian to famed Bri­tish Ad­mi­ral Ge­orge Rodney:

“There had been noth­ing that could be called a hur­ri­cane felt at Bar­ba­dos for more than a cen­tury be­fore 1780, so that the in­hab­i­tants be­gan to think them­selves ex­empt from such calami­ties and ac­cord­ingly had no ed­i­fices of suf­fi­cient strength to with­stand the force of a hur­ri­cane.”

The Editor of “The West In­dian,” a Bar­ba­dos pa­per would tell of the mighty wind rush­ing from the north­west at dawn of Oc­to­ber 10, 1780, with the storm rag­ing late into the night. “Be­fore day-break, the cas­tle and forts, the church, ev­ery pub­lic build­ing and al­most ev­ery house in Bridgetown, were lev­elled with the earth.”

Ad­mi­ral Rodney’s fleet an­chored at Port Cas­tries, St Lu­cia was wrecked and one of his large ves­sels was tossed by the tide on to the city hos­pi­tal which collapsed un­der the weight. He would speak of his shock that Bar­ba­dos, “the most beau­ti­ful is­land in the world has the ap­pear­ance of a coun­try laid waste by fire, and sword.”

In a let­ter to his wife, he re­lated: “The strong­est build­ings and the whole of the houses, most of which were stone, and re­mark­able for their so­lid­ity, gave way to the fury of the wind, and were torn up to their foun­da­tions; all the forts de­stroyed, and many of the heavy can­non car­ried up­wards of a hun­dred feet from the forts. Had I not been an eye­wit­ness, noth­ing could have in­duced me to have be­lieved it. More than 6,000 per­sons per­ished, and all the in­hab­i­tants are en­tirely ru­ined.”

Dr, Depra­dine who is a Fac­ulty Dean at the Univer­sity of the West Indies, Mona Cam­pus quoted from a tome by French ge­og­ra­pher and writer, Jacques Élisée Reclus:

“Start­ing from Bar­ba­dos, where nei­ther trees nor dwellings were left stand­ing, it caused the English fleet an­chored off St. Lu­cia to dis­ap­pear and com­pletely rav­aged this is­land, where 6,000 per­sons were crushed un­der the ru­ins. After this, the whirl­wind tend­ing to­ward Mar­tinique, en­veloped a con­voy of French trans­ports, and sunk more than 40 ships car­ry­ing 4,000 sol­diers; on land, the town of St. Pierre and other places were com­pletely razed… and 9,000 per­sons per­ished there. More to the north, Do­minique (Do­minica), St. Eus­tatius, St. Vin­cent and Porto Rico (Puerto Rico) were like­wise dev­as­tated and most of the ves­sels which were on the path of the cy­clone foundered, with all their crews. Be­yond Porto Rico, the tem­pest bent to the north-east, to­ward the Ber­mu­das and though its vi­o­lence had grad­u­ally

Min­is­ter of Busi­ness Do­minic Gaskin has de­fended his col­league min­is­ter, Raphael Trot­man against crit­i­cisms about his tak­ing of his then fu­ture wife and Tech­ni­cal Of­fi­cer, Teresa Gaime on an Exxon­Mo­bil trip just months prior to her exit from the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources (MNR).

“If some­one is work­ing in their par­tic­u­lar ca­pac­ity, year one and year two, and then all of a sud­den in year three she stops work­ing and ten­ders her res­ig­na­tion, I think she is ex­pected to con­tinue work­ing in the ca­pac­ity she had been work­ing through­out un­til her last day of work,” Gaskin told Stabroek News on Tues­day, when con­tacted.

“In that ca­pac­ity she is an as­sis­tant to a min­is­ter. In the con­text, of her be­ing his fi­ancée, we have to divorce that be­cause she is still re­quired to work,” he added.

Gaskin had pre­vi­ously de­fended the visit by the team of gov­ern­ment min­is­ters to Exxon­Mo­bil’s Texas, USA head­quar­ters. Gaskin and Trot­man rep­re­sent the Al­liance For Change (AFC) in the gov­ern­ing coali­tion. Trot­man is the cur­rent leader of the AFC.

Com­men­ta­tor Christo­pher Ram in his oil and gas col­umn in Fri­day’s Stabroek News blasted Trot­man over the Texas visit and by ex­ten­sion his gov­ern­ment.

Re­fer­ring to a Stabroek News re­port that Gaime, who he did not name, was part of the Exxon­Mo­bil all-ex­penses paid trip to Texas, a full month after she had ten­dered her res­ig­na­tion and there­fore had no fu­ture role in the Min­istry or Gov­ern­ment, Ram raised se­ri­ous con­cerns.

“Now let us put this into con­text. On the del­e­ga­tion was di­min­ished, it sunk sev­eral English war­ships re­turn­ing to Europe.”

Ba­hamian fore­caster and au­thor, Wayne Neely who has ex­ten­sively stud­ied the San Cal­ixto Hur­ri­cane for his 2012 pub­li­ca­tion “The Great Hur­ri­cane of 1790” ar­gues that it changed the course of his­tory, by hav­ing a crit­i­cal im­pact on the out­come of the Amer­i­can War of In­de­pen­dence, and mark­ing the end of an ex­tended pe­riod of pros­per­ity in this re­gion.

“Had this storm not dec­i­mated the Bri­tish fleet fight­ing this bat­tle, the United States of Amer­ica would have had still been un­der con­trol of the Bri­tish Min­is­ter Do­minic Gaskin of the AFC who de­scribed the AFC min­is­ters of the APNU+AFC Gov­ern­ment as `un­brib­able’.

“Un­der any rea­son­able test, this act by Trot­man would be con­sid­ered as cor­rupt (pub­lic of­fice for pri­vate gain). Did Mr. Trot­man tell his col­leagues that he and the young lady were en­gaged/about to be mar­ried? If he did not, was that not a ma­te­rial non-dis­clo­sure? And if he did, did they ob­ject, and if not, why not?

“It would be in­ter­est­ing also to know whether Mr. Trot­man in­formed Exxon­Mo­bil of his re­la­tion­ship with the young woman, and whether he and the other four Min­is­ters who went on the visit did not con­sider his ac­tion at the very least, in­ap­pro­pri­ate and per­son­ally un­com­fort­able.

“This act for which the Ad­min­is­tra­tion must col­lec­tively be held re­spon­si­ble has cer­tainly di­min­ished us in the eyes of Exxon­Mo­bil”, Ram as­serted.

Stabroek News reached out to the Min­is­ter of Nat­u­ral Re­sources for com­ment but he would only say, “I have been ad­vised to of­fer no com­ment.”

Gaime was part of the eight­mem­ber del­e­ga­tion, which in­cluded five gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, which at­tended an an­nual part­ner­ship meet­ing with Exxon­Mo­bil at its Hous­ton, Texas Cam­pus from Au­gust 10 to Au­gust 11 of this year.

This news­pa­per has also sought com­ment from Gaime but calls to her mo­bile phone went unan­swered.

Sources told this news­pa­per that while some per­sons from Guyana’s con­tin­gent were not aware of Trot­man’s en­gage­ment to his ju­nior, oth­ers knew. and not the in­de­pen­dent coun­try we know to­day,” he said in a 2013 on­line in­ter­view.

Neely points to the Great Hur­ri­cane be­ing unique for its lo­ca­tion, the time of year it oc­curred, and the mas­sive death toll it racked up on the af­fected is­lands. It hit like the other two huge Oc­to­ber squalls when nu­mer­ous fleets from dif­fer­ent Euro­pean sea pow­ers were bat­tling for con­trol of the Caribbean and North Amer­ica. It would take an­other 200 years, be­fore Hur­ri­cane Mitch even racked up fa­tal­i­ties ex­ceed­ing 10,000.

How­ever, Bri­tish-born Dis­as­ter His­to­rian, John Withing­ton dis­agrees. In his book, “Storm: Na­ture and Ac­cord­ing to a source, Exxon­Mo­bil knew that Gaime was Trot­man’s fi­ancée at the time and that she had re­signed from her post, which would take ef­fect on Oc­to­ber 31st.

The de­ci­sion for her to travel, sources say, was be­cause she led most of the ground work and was li­ais­ing be­tween MNR and Exxon­Mo­bil and knew first­hand of most of the as­so­ci­ated projects. She has also given a com­mit­ment to as­sist her re­place­ment with un­com­pleted work and for a smooth tran­si­tion fol­low­ing her de­par­ture.

Gaime is also listed as an Ex­ec­u­tive As­so­ci­ate of the com­pany Dochas Con­sult­ing which she helped formed. This news­pa­per un­der­stands that she gave up an ac­tive role in the com­pany and its man­age­ment to long­time friend and Pres­i­dent of the busi­ness, Sharissa- Bar­row Craig. And while she is still listed on the agency’s web­site as an Cul­ture” he ad­mits, ‘A lead­ing Amer­i­can rebel James Duane, de­scribed the hur­ri­cane as “the worst dis­as­ter since the Del­uge,” spec­u­lat­ing that it might have struck a fa­tal blow against the Royal Navy in the War of In­de­pen­dence. Within 18 months the colo­nial power did de­cide to aban­don the strug­gle, but the havoc caused by the hur­ri­cane was a con­trib­u­tory rather than a de­ci­sive fac­tor.’

ID en­joys fresh limes from her tree. Dr. Gil­bert Blane pop­u­larised cit­rus juice to pre­vent scurvy in Bri­tish sailors, per­suad­ing the Ad­mi­ralty to go against the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment and in­tro­duce lemons, then limes to the naval diet in 1795, hence the slang “limey.” Ex­ec­u­tive As­so­ci­ate, it is not clear if she will re­sume work there. Con­cerns have been raised about the con­sul­tancy with which she is as­so­ci­ated be­ing given con­tracts by the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

Gaskin said that he was un­aware of the con­sul­tancy and as such could not com­ment on that as­pect but lauded Gaime for her show of com­part­men­tal­i­sa­tion on the trip.

How­ever, he said that while he un­der­stands that a re­la­tion­ship with a min­is­ter of gov­ern­ment and a ju­nior staffer could be la­belled un­eth­i­cal, he be­lieves that since no one knows when the re­la­tion­ship blos­somed, from a pro­fes­sional to an amorous one, credit should be given for Gaime re­sign­ing.

He bases his rea­son­ing on his in­ter­ac­tions with Gaime, who he said has pro­duced ex­em­plary work in the oil and gas sec­tor in ar­eas she was re­spon­si­ble for.

“I did not walk with a tech­ni­cal as­sis­tant but had I cho­sen to do so it would have been just that, an as­sis­tant to as­sist me, to make my work a lit­tle eas­ier; tak­ing notes, giv­ing ad­vice de­pend­ing on the ex­per­tise needed. I think we have an im­ma­ture at­ti­tude to over­seas travel as if it is some sort of a priv­i­lege. While I do un­der­stand it is some­thing that can be abused, cer­tainly I did not get the im­pres­sion that any­one was there for their good looks. I think ev­ery­one served their pur­pose. It didn’t mat­ter to me. As long as she is com­ing for a pur­pose. This is some­one who has been in many meet­ings, in a sim­i­lar ca­pac­ity, through­out the last two years. In other words, it is noth­ing strange in hav­ing some­one con­tinue do­ing what they have al­ways been do­ing un­til they are no longer an em­ployee of the state. It is not as if this per­son was do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent and all of a sud­den now is en­joy­ing dif­fer­ent con­di­tions of work or some­thing like that”, he said.

“As a min­is­ter, when you travel with an as­sis­tant it is re­ally very valu­able. You don’t have to re­ply as much on your own note tak­ing if they have tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and knowl­edge of an area that is rel­e­vant it is also use­ful. I don’t see why this is be­ing looked at as if it is some sort of spe­cial gift handed out to some­body. She has al­ways showed ex­em­plary pro­fes­sion­al­ism. I have al­ways held her in high re­gard be­cause I found her to be ex­tremely pro­fes­sional, ex­tremely com­pe­tent, and quite smart and al­ways held her in high re­gard... I was not aware that there was any­thing more than a pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship. And to me, that is tes­ta­ment that it cer­tainly was not any­thing that was ob­vi­ous and there­fore all I saw was the pro­fes­sional in the work we did while we were there,” he added.

He said that Gaime’s res­ig­na­tion can also be seen as both par­ties’ re­al­i­sa­tion that their pro­fes­sional work had evolved into a per­sonal one and it was the “right thing to do” for her to ten­der her res­ig­na­tion lest ac­cu­sa­tions and as­sump­tions run high.

“Per­haps it is why we have a res­ig­na­tion. I wasn’t aware of any re­la­tion­ship and I can’t think to spec­u­late about that. All I can tell you is, we have a min­is­ter who has mar­ried some­one who was a mem­ber of his staff. I don’t think it is im­moral. That per­son has re­signed which I think was the right thing to do in a sit­u­a­tion like that,” he posited.

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