Grundling re­lates storm dev­as­ta­tion in the Vir­gin Is­lands

Talk of the Town - - Front Page - Pic­ture: ME­GAN GRUNDLING

Cata­ma­rans worth mil­lions of dol­lars lay over­turned, on top of each other and, in some in­stances, were lifted right out of the wa­ter and cat­a­pulted into nearby houses. Nearly ev­ery build­ing was bereft of its roof, win­dows and its con­tents on the is­land of Tor­tola in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands. Read a lo­cal woman’s or­deal in sur­viv­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma-

FOR­MER Port Al­fred res­i­dent, Me­gan Grundling, sur­vived a Cat­e­gory 5 Hur­ri­cane, Irma, on Septem­ber 6 when she found her­self stuck on Tor­tola Is­land in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands (BVI), her place of work, which she con­sid­ered a slice of par­adise.

But par­adise quickly be­came a liv­ing hell, as Grundling re­called her or­deal, and the plight of many peo­ple, who, in the aftermath of the storm, are still try­ing to put their lives back to­gether. Grundling is cur­rently in the South­ern Caribbean on an is­land, Be­quia, with an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 4300; “Right now, sur­rounded by strangers, it feels like a pop­u­la­tion of one,” she said.

Grundling is a for­mer Port Al­fred High School dux pupil, and a Miss Port Al­fred fi­nal­ist who has been liv­ing in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands for the past two-and-a-half years.

She re­cently re­turned to Port Al­fred while await­ing her new work per­mit and re­turned to the BVI on Septem­ber 3 to start her new job as a fi­nan­cial con­troller at a yacht char­ter com­pany.

While Grundling was aware of the hur­ri­cane threat, she said she didn’t feel too wor­ried and her em­ployer wasn’t alarmed ei­ther.

“When I went to the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket in the af­ter­noon [Mon­day Septem­ber 4], I re­call there was def­i­nitely a slight sense of panic among the lo­cals – the park­ing lot was full [cars were park­ing in the mid­dle of the park­ing lot, block­ing cars on ei­ther side] and the store was packed with is­lan­ders who were stock­ing up on wa­ter, tinned food, bat­ter­ies, torches, can­dles, match sticks and other hur­ri­cane sup­plies – pre­dom­i­nantly al­co­hol,” Grundling said.

While stay­ing at tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion, Grundling set­tled in and said the Tues­day had come and gone without even a breeze.

“Then, at about 11.30am [Wed­nes­day], Irma’s core un­leashed her de­struc­tion upon the ter­ri­tory – and her as­sault was mer­ci­less,” she said.

“One couldn’t see much, but the wind was whistling – out­side and through the pipes lead­ing into the sink – if there was an open­ing, the 295km per hour winds were ex­ploit­ing it”, she said.

“Ev­ery so of­ten, there would be the sound of the gusts smash­ing hard against the out­side pa­tio. Dur­ing the course of the six hours of hell, I wit­nessed the screen doors blow right off along with the solid gas braai and con­crete um­brella base out­side which were eas­ily scooped up by the wind.

“The land­lord and his en­tire fam­ily came run­ning down to the ground floor level where I was stay­ing dur­ing the first-half of the storm to seek refuge after their roof had blown off and parts of the ceil­ing col­lapsed.

“By some mir­a­cle, the glass slid­ing doors and win­dows re­mained in­tact and we only had to deal with wa­ter gush­ing into the one bed­room and the lounge area,” Grundling said

The next day, on Grundling’s birthday, a bar­ren land­scape lay be­fore her; what was once lush green­ery was now re­placed with what re­sem­bled a burnt-down for­est.

“It was a strange day – for the first time since I can re­mem­ber, not a sin­gle per­son wished me happy birthday. I was a stranger in a lo­cal fam­ily’s home, plac­ing strain on al­ready scarce re­sources and the only thing al­le­vi­at­ing the strain was the fact that I had luck­ily also stocked up on some food and wa­ter sup­plies ahead of the storm,” she said.

Some days later, Grundling man­aged to do a short hike through forestry to get to a func­tion­ing ve­hi­cle and get a lift to the half-cleared road to town when the true mag­ni­tude of Irma’s de­struc­tion dawned upon her.

“No pic­tures or sto­ries can do jus­tice to the com­plete de­mo­li­tion of my beloved is­land; gi­gan­tic trees had been up­rooted and blocked the roads along with power lines and ca­bles; tar had lifted from the road and pieces of the tar had bro­ken off and washed away; cars lay over­turned, large metal ship­ping con­tain­ers had been air­lifted and now lay in var­i­ous park­ing lots – one in par­tic­u­lar was now in the ex­act lo­ca­tion my car had pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied, be­fore I had de­cided to move it,” Grundling said.

After a tremen­dous strug­gle and ef­fort, Grundling fi­nally made con­tact with her new em­ploy­ers and was able to re­ceive crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion which led her to the lo­cal BVI base, where a num­ber of crew mem­bers were based and from which an evac­u­a­tion boat was launched a few days later.

“Mirac­u­lously, most of my em­ployer’s BVI ves­sels sur­vived the storm and th­ese were set to sail to St. Kitts and Ne­vis, fol­low­ing the ar­rival of a re­lief sup­ply boat aptly called ‘New Be­gin­ning’, on Thurs­day, Septem­ber 14,” she said.

She sailed for about 27-hours from Tor­tola, BVI, to St Kitts and Ne­vis be­fore Grundling and her crew ar­rived in Ne­vis as refugees. After two nights Grundling was evac­u­ated yet again, this time to Be­quia, to es­cape an­other Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane – Maria. Dur­ing this evac­u­a­tion she was forced to leave be­hind most of her be­long­ings in Ne­vis. After ev­ery­thing, Grundling has a heavy heart and bro­ken dreams, “I was about to start a new chap­ter of my life – my friends and I all were – given that we had all se­cured new jobs and were full of ex­cite­ment at fu­ture prospects.

“Now my friends’ jobs hang in the balance, I drift from is­land to is­land and the lonely feel­ing of be­ing on a re­mote is­land far away from all those I love, un­cer­tain what the fu­ture holds, per­sists,” she said.

Uncer­tainty aside, Grundling is over­whelmed with a feel­ing of grat­i­tude for the many good peo­ple who crossed her path. “In­di­vid­u­als who had un­der­gone more trauma than I, who were still will­ing to lis­ten and could still laugh; in­di­vid­u­als who lost ev­ery­thing and still con­tin­ued to smile and ask for noth­ing in re­turn for help­ing one; strangers of­fer­ing their ser­vices – a com­mu­nity full of beau­ti­ful souls com­ing to­gether to aid each other in this time of cri­sis,” Grundling said.


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