In January 1995, Mary Ann and I moved from Canada to the tiny Carribean island of Anguilla. On September 5th, 1995, Anguilla took a direct hit from Hurricane Luis.
Before moving we did a lot of research on hurricanes, using the Internet to find studies of Hugo and Andrew and talking to any survivors that we met. Although Anguilla had not been hit in 30 years, we developed a disaster plan, including leaving the island. In the event of a hurricane warning, we agreed to carry out our plan, no matter how many people tried to talk us out of it.
We pestered our landlords to get hurricane shutters for the sliding glass doors. We had extra bottled water and canned food, a bucket to get water out of the cisterns, important papers isolated and wrapped in plastic, flashlights out with extra batteries, an emergency suitcase packed and ready, and shoes left by the bed every night (many injuries occur from walking on broken glass).
When Luis threatened, we boarded up our house, stapled plastic sheeting over the bookcases, put the computers in plastic bags, and stored them off the floor in the most secure room. We left Anguilla on the last American Eagle flight, taking with us a confused honeymoon couple from Sweden. Since San Juan was also threatened, we continued to the Dutch island of Aruba, which is out of the hurricane belt.
After a wonderful week in Aruba, we tried to return to Anguilla. Although Anguilla was never mentioned on the TV news from the USA, we knew that neighboring St. Martin was badly damaged. The coordinates of Luis went even closer to Anguilla, so we expected the worst. Our worries increased when American Airlines cancelled ALL flights from San Juan to Anguilla for at least a week, except shipments of medical and relief supplies. Only residents could fly to St. Martin, but NO ONE was allowed into Anguilla. Gruesome images of mass destruction and death in our minds were fed by escalating rumors. There was no official news, but each ticket counter clerk in San Juan helpfully offered their own version of the story, more dreadful than the previous.
Mary Ann decided that we had to touch home base and at least know what was left. So we flew to St. Thomas (devastated a week later by Hurricane Marilyn) to attempt to charter a plane. In St. Thomas the small local airlines were more than ready to fly us to Anguilla, along with other worried Anguillans bearing generators, chain saws, and giant-size packs of Pampers. We rushed to the supermarket and bought two boxes of canned food.
Flying into Anguilla in a 6-seater plane, the first thing we noticed was that scenic Sandy Island had been reduced from a palm-covered tiny oasis to an even tinier reef. Then we noticed that the landscape had turned from green to brown: the leaves had blown off all the trees. Most of the houses still appeared to have their roofs. The airport still stood, customs agents still wanted to know what was in your bags. A line of taxicabs still waited outside to whisk us home.
Our home had survived the hurricane, intact and dry, computers and books safe. However, our 40' shipping container was lifted by the hurricane and dropped 50 yards away, up hill. Luckily it was mostly empty, there was nothing nearby to be damaged, and it landed right-side up. Another 40' container near the airport landed on 6 rental cars and smashed them.
Although Anguilla was badly mauled, it was more fortunate than the neighboring islands. There were no injuries, no deaths, and no need for a curfew. The British sailors who arrived were able to help repair the damage instead of guarding stores.
Phone services and electric power were knocked out, of course, not to mention cable TV. People are busy setting up generators while the island is re-wired. It has been inspiring to see everyone pitching in cleaning up and repairing the damage. We distributed our two boxes of food to people with children who could use it and donated our extra water bottles to people who needed it.
Cable and Wireless, the phone company, was one of the few places with both phone and power, and they were kind enough to let me temporarily work out of their office. I have my regular phone number here, my computers, Internet access, and a new cellular phone.
Thanks to all of you who have been asking about us. We are fine.
For more details about the aftermath of Hurricane Luis on Anguilla, consult my LUIS web page and my Anguilla Local News web page.