Friday, 17 October 2008

Hurricane OMAR and what we learned from it

Ooooooh, happy people :D Omar came and left us bruised and battered but alive and well. There was only minor damage on Saba (unlike St Maarten), except for the harbour area (Fort Bay, as pictured above the morning after), where a couple of diveshops were left with quite a mess. So, this is how my last few days went...

1500 UTC MON OCT 13 2008

That's how it started on Monday when Omar was not Omar, but Tropical Depression Fifteen. After that, we were all glued to the internet ( is a great website if anyone is interested). Jan decided to pull the marine park patrol boat out of the water and the fishermen were discussing taking their boats to relative safety in St Maarten by Tuesday.

The situation changed 24 hours later, when Omar was named and the predicted direction was corrected as well. Bad news for Saba! By then it was clear that we'd be hit and a "Storm warning, hurricane watch" was issued for Saba. That means, any boats still on Saba would not be covered by insurance - so all fishermen and diveshops drove their boats to St Maarten or had them pulled on shore here on Saba. It was a lovely calm day btw.

Omar was forecasted to be a hurricane category 1 or 2 and to affect us between noontime Wednesday and Thursday early morning.

My careful suggestion to Jan Tuesday afternoon to maybe start installing shutters instead of going out for a beer was met with a "nooooo, we'll do that tomorrow after I'm done at the Marine Park". Who am I to argue? My concern was that he'd have to secure the office AND our new house (for which we didn't have shutter yet, so he'd have to get materials first) AND the place we currently live in including the big house of our landlord. But hey, who am I to argue?

So, Wednesday morning Jan went to the harbour to secure the office and hyperbaric chamber. I went to work and must admit to getting increasingly nervous, until Jan finally came back to Windwardside at 12:30-ish with loads of plywood, 2x4's and tools. By then it was raining heavily and in addition I had not eaten anything that day - expecting Jan back within "an hour or so", giving us plenty of time for the task at hand.

As it happened, we were now really in a hurry! No time for food, just enough to grab a jacket and a baseball cap. Both withstood the rain for approx. 8 minutes, guess it could have been worse. Oh wait, it got worse....

We drove down to the new house first and started carrying the wood up the steep hill. Jan was quite stressed out - understandably so - and thus I resisted the urge to say "I told you so". Matter of fact I didn't say that once during that whole ordeal. When, however, Jan tripped over a rock walking backwards as we were walking with a very heavy piece of plywood (1.50x1.50 m would be my guess), leaving the wood no other place to fall than onto my ancle after a short stop on my knee, I did say (through clenched teeth) "Now, can we pleeeease start a day earlier next time".

No time to relax though, we were running out of time. So with a bump on my knee and a gap in my ancle, blood literally running down into my (previously white) running shoes and rain-soaked through three layers of clothing, here I found myself putting up shutters. Since someone had forgotten to put all the tools in Jans truck, we did not have the right equipment and had to improvise a bit. Obviously that did not make the task at hand any faster and/or easier. Another day in Paradise, hey?

We finished with the house at down, two more to go, rain getting heavier, wind getting stronger - and darkness just 2.5 hours away. At our current place, there were waterfalls on each side of the house, the amount of rain was unbelievable.

At least we had pre-made shutters for these two places, so work went faster. This is when I have to mention that despite less than ideal conditions and both of us under a considerable amount of mental and physical stress, we never argued or yelled at each other. Quite a significant indication of a good relationship I'd say ;)

Anyway, we worked on and by 18:00 there was just one more shutter to put up. Unfortunately, this was by far the most heavy one (35-40 kg) and quite awkward to carry. Jan and I were both in automatic mode I think. We were beyond cold, and probably beyond caring as well. We carried the shutter through the garden, up the stairs, through the house and managed to attach it. Yeah. Done.

We rewarded ourselves with a hot-hot shower and then went in pursuit of a beer and a meal, unaware that restaurants have to close during a hurricane, so our first attempt only brought us an hour with a couple of beers in nice company. Luckily, hotels stay open, so we had dinner and were home before the worst hit Saba. And before they had to shut down the power plant.

Of course we should have been too scared to sleep that night, but completely exhausted as we were, we slept like babies until 8 Thursday morning. A beautiful, calm day, the sun was shining. Then it was time to assess the damage: several trees were gone and the lawn was basically covered in broken-off branches, the water was running down the wall inside our flat. Apart from that, everything appeared fine.

Jan tried walking down to our new home, but after falling on the slippery path twice and doing his best to let his elbow wound compete with my ancle, he gave up...

Then the phone call: Fort Bay harbour is a mess! The power had not yet been turned on, so without coffee or breakfast we made our way towards Fort Bay. On the way, we passed big tree trunks and even bigger rocks that had fallen off the mountain sides. And yes, Fort Bay was a mess...

- yes, that's a piece of concrete there

- that used to be a pier

- I am trying to imagine the force necessary to move those boulder up into the harbour and then across to the diveshop

- the harbour office survived, but the road was burried under boulders and rocks

- this is the road to the dump; guess those things have to end up there now anyway

Fortunately, the Marine Park office was ok, so after a bit of chatting, we made our way back up to Windwardside, where we decadently decided to go out for breakfast. Yummi. And quite necessary, facing the task of taking some of the shutters down and cleaning up the took us 3 hours to clear it reasonably. By then, we both felt about 16 years older - all muscles aching after two days of pretty hard workout.

- too bad we don't have any before pictures :(

Today, our lives are pretty much back to normal. We're going to have a weekend of doing as little as possible. Must take care of that huge pile of still soaking wet clothes though ;)

Anyway, that was my week ;) Take care lovely people, I'll now walk home through the rain, taking comfort in the knowledge that it won't be as bad as Wednesday