Wild, wild, wild Gil­bert

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Eger­ton Chang is a busi­ness­man. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and e_rider69@ hot­mail.com.

IDON’T know ex­actly what trig­gered the gnaw­ing feel­ing that he was on his way. But early that Sun­day morn­ing, I made sure to pick up Kings­ley, a life­long fam­ily friend and jack of all trades. I took him up to the house I had re­cently bought from Gre­gory Isaacs to as­sess what hard­ware was re­quired.

We searched and searched for one that was open and ended up at Handy Hard­ware Sup­plies in Molynes Plaza, one of the pre­cious few that was open that Sun­day.

There were around four to five other cus­tomers there at min­utes to noon when we ar­rived. I had to se­ri­ously ques­tion my cer­tainty that he was re­ally com­ing as the other cus­tomers were buy­ing paint and such the like.

No one was buy­ing zinc nails or any­thing that in­di­cated get­ting pre­pared to wel­come him.

In ad­di­tion to zinc nails, I bought a few lengths of lath to help se­cure the roof and a few feet of flash ban. I also pur­chased a hand tree saw to cut some large limbs over­hang­ing the house and some rope to help guild them from fall­ing on to the roof, and a roll of mask­ing tape.

FELLING TREES

Cu­ri­ous passers-by stopped and must have won­dered why we were ‘limb­ing’ the tree. It took a great deal of ef­fort to en­sure the huge branches did not fall on to my roof – or my neigh­bour’s.

We started to nail down the roof a lit­tle be­fore 3 p.m. un­der over­cast skies, the sound of Kings­ley’s ham­mer seem­ing to echo in the eerily still af­ter­noon. No other sim­i­lar sound could be heard.

Fi­nally, at around 4 p.m., the tap-tap sound of a sim­i­larly minded soul could be heard in the dis­tance. Ah, at least there were two of us they would be tak­ing to Belle­vue.

After se­cur­ing my house, we headed down to my youngest brother’s games of amuse­ment busi­ness, Gallery of Games, on Half-Way Tree Road. It was in full swing, jammed with pa­trons whose only thoughts were their im­me­di­ate plea­sure.

There we used the mask­ing tape to make ‘X’ across each of the glass panes. Then, we headed up to his home near Abbey Court to se­cure his town house.

Pre­vi­ously, we had bought some canned food and pro­vi­sions, and had stored some wa­ter, not barely enough to serve us too long, how­ever.

No one could be ‘bet­ter’ pre­pared to greet Mr Gil­bert.

GIL­BERT COMETH

By dawn Mon­day, the winds in Kingston had picked up to trop­i­cal storm strength, as by 910 a.m., Gil­bert’s eye, the first hur­ri­cane to score a di­rect hit on Ja­maica in 37 years, had breached the east­ern tip of the is­land as a Cat­e­gory Three storm.

Iron­i­cally, I was al­most drowned as a baby in my crib in the pre­vi­ous such hur­ri­cane, Char­lie, in 1951.

The rain and the wind pum­melled un­abated the en­tire morn­ing. Sandy Park Gully, run­ning on the other side of Kings House

Av­enue, filled to al­most over­flow­ing and roared like a run­away train.

The winds howled like the wolf in that chil­dren’s story, try­ing to blow my roof off. Once, twice, the roof creaked.

Air­planes (and roofs) fly as a re­sult of Bernoulli’s prin­ci­ple, which says that as air flow speeds up the pres­sure is low­ered. Thus, a wing (roof) gen­er­ates lift be­cause the air goes faster over the top, cre­at­ing a re­gion of low pres­sure above, and thus lift.

Luck­ily, I re­mem­bered to open a few of the win­dows on the lee­ward side, thus equal­is­ing the pres­sure. My fam­ily must have thought me mad as rain started to pelt in, in squalls. There­after, the wind and the roof set­tled into an un­easy truce.

THE EYE

The eye passed di­rectly over­head near 1 p.m. that Mon­day, the still­ness last­ing 10 min­utes at most.

Then the winds switched from the op­po­site di­rec­tion seem­ingly more fear­some than be­fore. While, the roof ap­peared se­cure, the fre­quent gusts still drove fear that it might be left blow­ing in the wind.

By late af­ter­noon, the worst

had been over. I was amazed, as by early evening a lit­tle ray of sun­shine had peeped through for a short pe­riod.

By 6 p.m., the eye of Gil­bert had ex­ited the west­ern end of Ja­maica.

Gil­bert could have caused even more ex­ten­sive dam­age if it had tra­versed the is­land at a slower speed. As it was, the eye of Gil­bert had spent less than 10 hours over Ja­maica.

Per­haps, I shouldn’t be sur­prised at Ja­maica’s seem­ing un­pre­pared state as Ed­ward Seaga, the prime min­is­ter at the time, told THE STAR’s Akino Ming, pub­lished Septem­ber 12, 2017:

“We didn’t have any sys­tems in place to fore­warn us of any weather con­di­tions, so it took us by just hear­ing of what hap­pened in ad­join­ing coun­tries. We didn’t know any­thing about it un­til it reached the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Haiti, and that was on the Satur­day evening.”

The dam­age to Ja­maica was ex­ten­sive, no part be­ing spared.

We, ig­nor­ing all the safety ad­vice, like the cu­ri­ous cat, hit the roads the next morn­ing, pick­ing our way through de­bris­strewn streets with downed power sup­ply mak­ing some im­pass­able. We could not go very

far in any di­rec­tion.

I, be­ing a cam­era buff in those days, must have taken more than 500 pho­tos (re­mem­ber in those days, pic­tures had to be de­vel­oped, a very costly ex­er­cise) of the dam­age done in the Kingston area. I ven­tured out fur­ther and fur­ther in the days and weeks after, as Ja­maica and the author­i­ties steadily cleared the roads and JPS re­paired the downed power lines.

There was a big hul­la­baloo, I re­mem­ber, about JPS not hav­ing dis­as­ter in­sur­ance and the pub­lic be­ing asked to pay for their mas­sive re­pairs through in­creased elec­tric­ity rates.

THE DAM­AGE

Gil­bert’s eye mea­sured about 15 miles across with wind speeds gust­ing to 127mph be­ing recorded in the Kingston Metropoli­tan Area.

Gil­bert dev­as­tated all sec­tors of the so­ci­ety and the econ­omy. Dam­age was es­ti­mated at US$4 bil­lion, with the dam­age to agri­cul­ture ac­count­ing for more than 40 per cent of this to­tal.

Forty-five per­sons re­port­edly died across the is­land, and al­most all health fa­cil­i­ties suf­fered dam­age.

Per­sons, num­ber­ing in the hun­dreds of thou­sands, sought shel­ter.

A one-month state of pub­lic emer­gency was de­clared for St Thomas, St Cather­ine, and Kingston and St An­drew.

In the end, it took sev­eral months for wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, and tele­phone ser­vices to be fully re­stored across the is­land.

While there was a lot of gloom, there was a bunch to be thank­ful for.

The in­sur­ance set­tle­ments for the most ba­sic of claims were quite gen­er­ous, in the most part, and were pro­vided de­void of ex­ten­sive proof re­quire­ment, the ex­treme num­ber of claims mak­ing it im­prac­ti­cal to do oth­er­wise.

(There­after, the aver­age clause that pe­nalised those who un­der­in­sured their homes was to be strictly en­forced.)

The ex­ten­sive amount of zinc sheets at ex­tremely low price (like $8 for a 12ft sheet) and other ba­sic con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als sim­i­larly priced, that flooded the is­land in the weeks and months fol­low­ing, meant one could re­build with­out great stress.

Eat­ing bully beef and sar­dines, and hardough bread, and lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio and Wild Gil­bert by Lloyd Lovin­deer (which was re­leased within a cou­ple of weeks) on those quiet nights must have brought a lot of fam­i­lies closer to­gether dur­ing the en­su­ing weeks and months.

Few places of entertainment hav­ing elec­tric­ity en­sured there wasn’t many other things to do.

I still re­gard those days, with all the ad­ver­si­ties, as some of my most mem­o­rable.

While not all places of busi­ness had elec­tric­ity re­stored by De­cem­ber, most of New Kingston cer­tainly had power in time for the muted yet wel­come Christ­mas par­ties to help brighten our spir­its.

FILE PHO­TOS

Res­i­dents of Lucea were forced to put back to­gether the pieces that Hur­ri­cane Gil­bert sent fly­ing when it slammed into Ja­maica on Septem­ber 12, 1988. In this pic­ture, The main street was trans­formed into a near-end­less pile of rub­ble and roof­less build­ings.

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