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Thread: Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - A Gilbert Story

  1. #11
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #11 - Ridin' the storm out

    A wonderful aroma filled the air as the winds kept whipping at the windows. Chatting and laughter joined the howling from outside. A delicious dinner party replaced the solemn silence of the safety closet.

    Candle light gave a cozy ambiance to our hurricane feast. We shared stories of growing up and the differences and similarities between US and Jamaican upbringing. Remembering fun memories from long ago was the perfect antidote to relieve the symptoms of the storm.

    After dinner, the dishes were placed in the sink and the reminiscing continued around the table. The groundsman would make rounds of the villa every now and then to make sure all was secure. After a while fatigue set in and we made an attempt to sleep with the cook and groundsman sharing our beds.

    Sleep was not easiliy obtained. The spent adrenaline left a residual alertness to our tired minds and bodies. Candles flickered and went out as the drafts through the shutters reminded us that the storm was not finished. Explosions against the villa seemed louder in the quiet darkness. Sleep was not going to happen tonight, but all needed rest. Lying there, taking in the sounds in the complete absence of light, everyone contemplated the events of the day in their own way.

    Every now and then a huge boom would shake the building. Smaller crashes were almost not noticeable. We had been in this storm for so long that nothing seemed real anymore. The hours dragged on.

    Finally, the wild winds began dying down, providing a renewed sense of hope. The storm was moving off. When the noise from outside finally reached a less alarming level, the groundsman got up from the bed to investigate the property complex.

    No one said anything but we all decided to join him. We had been in the villa long enough.

    It was very early, perhaps 5 and the morning light was just beginning to produce a visible horizon. And we could hardly believed what we were witnessing.

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  2. #12
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #12 - Morning After

    The early morning sky couldn't dim the destruction in front of us. As far as the eye could see, nothing looked as it did the morning before. Instead of the bright green foliage that normally framed everything, there was nothing. Nothing at all. No trees, palms, bushes, shrubs...

    From the beach, you had an unobstructed view all the way across the morass to the base of the mountains. Nothing larger than the trunk of a tree that had been ripped out of the ground, laying on its side, blocked your vision. With the sun rising over the mountains breaking the night's hold, each passing minute allowed the devastation to come into better focus.

    Branches and broken trees littered the ground, leaves of every description, inches deep, lay like carpet covering whatever was below. Looking north or south, you could see miles of beach. Nothing blocked your view.

    Carefully walking toward the road, where was the road? It must be there, or had it been destroyed? Slowly approaching where we last saw it, a patch of asphalt beneath a flattened palm tree gave the only sign that the road ever existed. Turning around, we could easily see the bar at the Treehouse. Not a coconut tree! No palm trees! Fences were gone.

    Walking back toward the beach at the Native Son Villas, the brick chimney of the fire pit grill was gone. Sand was piled 3 feet high against the sliding glass door of our original villa. The beach was gone. Or maybe better thought of as relocated inland by some 50 yards. Sand peeked out from under the green carpet of leaves.

    Gradually we saw other people both up and down the beach coming out to investigate, looking as stunned as we must have looked. Someone up the beach yelled, is everyone okay. No one said anything. It was a question that no one seemed to have an adequate answer. Nothing seemed okay.

    We decided to walk down the beach and find out what we could.

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  3. #13
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #13 Coconut Telegraph

    Overcast sky gave a drab, dreary hue to everything. The sea was wild, waves still surfable. Without the foliage, the Treehouse seemed so close. Making a path across the high sand ridge, we watched each step. There could be anything buried beneath the sand. Some steps sinking deep in the sand, sandals were proving not to be the most appropriate footwear.

    Approaching the Treehouse, the beautiful coconut trees that lined their beach were gone. The thatch hut beach bar was demolished, what's left drooping sadly into the sand. A couple of staff members were clearing the leaves and branches out of the lobby area, the few guests roaming around drinking coffee.

    Treehouse had a new generator and it was being put to immediate use. The smell of coffee was enticing and we were offered a cup. To assist our cook, we inquired about the conditions of the road. The manager informed us that no staff has shown up since yesterday. Everyone there was doing double and triple shifts not knowing how long it would be until their replacements arrived.

    Finishing our coffee and thanking everyone, we went back to the Native Son.

    We found everyone surveying the grounds. It was a complete mess. There were boards and zinc sheets from who knows where, with the occasional sign sticking out. We found the cook and told her the bad news. She had already put the word out to everyone nearby that if anyone was heading to Green Island to check with her before they left. If she couldn't find a ride, she would try to get a message to her daughter.

    Around 10am, a group came by walking on their way to Green Island. They had tried to get a ride, but no taxis were operating. The cook gave her message urgently to the group and they headed on their way.

    The bit of good news we received arrived by 2pm. A message came back from Green Island! The cook's daughter was fine and staying with the Samuels family. All was well and the Samuels were glad to know the cook was okay.

    It seemed incredible to us that the message got to Green Island and back in that short time, we had thought we wouldn't hear anything until tomorrow. This form of communication would become our lifeline to the rest of the island.

    After this wonderful news, the first day after Gilbert dragged on with overcast skys and intermittent rains. The outer bands of the hurricane were giving us their farewell notice. From time to time other survivors from farther down the beach and West End brought us updates from where they rode out the storm. Their stories sounded familiar, nothing but damage and destruction everywhere. The only other good news from that first day was that no one had died.

    That was great news indeed!

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  4. #14
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #14 Bidding War

    By sunset we were all very tired and sleep came upon us easy. We had all survived the hurricane and this knowledge removed the urgency of yesterday's chaos.

    As the sun came up on Wednesday, the heat was noticeable. All the rain we had received was being transformed into steamy humidity. No clouds to break the heat, bright sun to warm the day. The groundsman was out early clearing the property, placing all the dying foliage in large piles. We joined in this clean up.

    Not being used to the tropical heat, the humidity took its toll. After just a couple hours we were hot, sweaty and exhausted. Since we were not really helping all that much, the groundsman made us stop and suggested we try to find a place to relax. We didn't argue.

    We decide to check out more of the beach and started south on our way down to Alfred's. The sea was calming so walking along the shore became somewhat possible. Getting to the Treehouse we noticed a mass of tourists all grabbing for something.

    The Treehouse was giving away ice to anyone who wanted it. And it sounded like everyone wanted it. Apparently there was a line, but some didn't want to wait and offered to buy the free ice. The Treehouse staff was taken aback by what they were seeing. The demands of yelling tourists for ice. One man yelled, "I will give you $5 for that handful of ice!" Another one said, "I will give you $10." A bidding war had erupted.

    The staff stood firm and made everyone get back in line. No one could pay for the ice, it was free. And you had to wait your turn or no one would get any ice. That threat got those without money to menace those with money , making them get back in line and shut up. Treehouse handled that well.

    Further down the beach we were informed of the first death from the hurricane. But it was not from the storm but from looting. A shop owner had killed a looter and the word was out. Looters will be shot.

    Alfred's was not open, nor were many places. An enterprising young entrepreneur had a cooler, ice and beer and opened up shop. Cold beers for a us$1. That was a steal in this heat! We had a couple and contemplated exploring more.

    The sights and sounds were rather depressing. What was the calming, beautiful Negril we knew two days ago no longer existed. It was replaced by this ravaged jagged Caribbean coastline. Time to start thinking about getting to the airport.

    We got back to Native Son about the time that we heard the first chainsaw fire up. Two property owners had gotten together and started to clear the road of debris. The road was beginning to reappear.

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  5. #15
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #15 road back to MoBay

    We were scheduled to head to the airport on Thursday. That didn't seem likely with the road blocked. There was 50 miles of road between here and MoBay, so far we had seen about 200 feet cleared by the Native Son.

    We set out to see if anyone else wanted to head to the airport in the next few days. Finding a couple at the Treehouse, our total was 6. Next we needed to locate a willing driver.

    There was plenty of drivers who were interested but we needed to find one that had a full tank of gas in the van. After a couple days, we settled on a driver and proceeded to make final plans for the journey.

    The plan was to set out early Saturday mornings. From our previous experience the ride to the airport would take between 4 and 5 hours. This would not be on the new road that anyone who has visited Negril since the early 2000's, but the old road that snaked its way along the coastline.

    Days passed and the air filled with the smell of death. There was rotting fruit from the downed trees and carcasses of animals that did not make it through the hurricane. It was a very unsettling aroma.

    By Saturday, as we had hoped, the boulevard was free to traverse.This was not due to any government assistance, but from the diligent work of the local owners taking care of their own areas. We knew there would be some places that we would need to clear so we had several pairs of work gloves on hand in the van. We also kept a supply of soft drinks ready. There was no such thing as bottled water yet in Negril.

    Just before dawn the driver picked us up. We met the other couple at the Treehouse and started our trek. The ride started smoothly. As with Negril, the trees were down everywhere and that same pungent odor filled the air. It was smooth sailing to Green Island where we encountered the one lane bridge. There was no traffic so we made it easily over the bridge and continued heading north.

    Our progress was slow, but steady. The road had been cleared rather well most of the way to Lucea. There were only a few spots where we had to stop and move some trees and boards out of our path.

    At Lucea, traffic was non-existent. The driver stopped at the gas station but there was no gas because of the lack of current. No way to pump the gas. The driver seemed a bit tense but assured us that all was fine. We each had a warm soft drink and started back on our way.

    From Lucea the trip started fine. but soon the road was blocked. There were already a few groups from the neighboring areas clearing stretches so we joined in. Soon we were on our way.

    As we went up a small hill, once again we had to get out and clear the way. This was a bit more difficult, especially when we noticed that we were actually in a driveway, we could make out the main road beneath us toward the sea. There were no initial indications that this was someone's yard as the house had been ripped away and dashed against a group of trees about 100 yards away down a ravine. We backed down the drive and got to work on the main road.

    We had been on the road for nearly 12 hours now and had not reached Mobay. It was getting dark so we found a spot to park and spent the evening under the stars. It was a forced camping situation but all in all not a bad place to be.

    As the sun rose in the morning, we headed out. There were more places blocked, more boards and zinc to move, but we continued on. As we approached a hill near Sandy Bay, the van began to sputter and rolled to a stop, up hill. We were out of gas.

    No one said anything. What was there to say? We all got out of the van and wandered around for a minute when we heard the sound of a truck horn behind us. Like a wish that was granted, a gasoline truck came up the hill and parked in front of us. After greeting us, the truck driver pulled out the hose and filled up our gas tank. He refused money, told us to have a great day and drove off. Now you don't see that happen every day.

    The road from Sandy Bay into MoBay was clear and made an easy trip into town. The traffic lights were out so it made crossing the intersections interesting.

    At the top of the high road we spotted the airport!

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  6. #16
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #16 The Airport

    It felt like weeks, but after a 4 day delay, we were finally at the airport. Time had been dragging on. The idea of a vacation ended nearly a week ago replaced by survival mode instincts. Pleasure was replaced by pragmatism. Seeing the airport was as close to a moment of pleasure that we had experienced in days. But even with that there were mixed feelings.

    Any experience like this creates camaraderie between survivors. There is a undeniable bond between people who go through the same disaster. We were now leaving these people, who had become such a big part of our lives. Leaving was good for all, it was now time for all the Jamaican people to focus on healing their crippled country and for us to get out of their way. We also had family and friends back home to contact and let know that we were okay.

    Coming down the upper road before the airport, the van made the loop around the roundabout. Passing the gas station outside the airport, we had made the journey.

    Chaos greeted us as we lumbered out of the van. There were no skycaps, no police, no security, only tourists wandering around aimlessly.

    The departure area was wide open. There was no need for doors as there were no walls. The giant sliding glass walls had been raised and people were walking everywhere.

    We overheard that British Airways had been flying for the last couple days, so our hopes were raised that Delta may be able to get a flight.

    Seeing the mass of people, we decided to send just one of us to the Delta counter. Gathering the tickets, they forced their way through the crowd to the line at the counter.

    The Delta schedule boards were empty but a rep was manning the counter. It was going to be a long wait but there was nothing else to do. In the meantime, the rest of us found a spot on the floor to camp out.

    We made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the hard hot dirty floor of the departure area.

    After a couple hours it was our turn at the counter. Going to the counter, tickets were presented and the situation was explained. There were no flights today, but should be one tomorrow. All the seats have been taken for this Monday flight.

    Two flights were proposed for Tuesday but nothing certain. Positive information continued to be hard to come by since Gilbert had struck.

    We started to rethink the idea of hurrying to the airport. We should have waited. There was no way out.

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  7. #17
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #17 Bribes, Booze and News...

    The heat of the afternoon depleted our drink supply and we hadn't had food for hours. But as with everyone else, we tried to make the best of the situation.

    As the sun set on the Sangster International Airport, we arranged beds using the clothes in our luggage. Since there was no airport security, we would take turns as our own security.

    Not that it really mattered as no one slept much at all. As morning came we were tired, hungry and hot. But laying there during the night had given us an increased urgency. We didn't want to spend another night at Sangster, so we came up with an idea. Pooling our cash, we had $1400. Let's see what that would buy us.

    Using the confusion all around us and finding a Delta employee, questions were asked and a conversation ensued. Other employees were introduced and more discussion. This went on for a relatively short time when one of the Delta ticketing personnel came and said that we could all get a seat for a fee, in cash. Handing over the money, the ticket agent went off. With any bribe, it is a gamble. There was a chance we had just thrown away our money.

    It wasn't long before they came back and gave us 4 boarding passes. For US$250 a piece, we had just bribed our way onto the next flight. The first flight out on Delta after Gilbert.

    The flight was set to take off at 2:45. We still had 6 hours to go.

    The complete chaos of yesterday had become merely substantial chaos today. By 10am, a local baker had come by with coco bread for everyone, no charge. It was quite a treat. Another vendor was selling box drinks. Food in the belly had gone a long way to raise the mood of the crowd.

    A group of British Airline passengers had already gone off on their flight back to the UK. We had learned more about British Air, they were flying in supplies and leaving with passengers. Very efficient. They were also the first planes to arrive in Jamaica after Gilbert. Give it up for the Queen!

    Around noon we gathered all our clothes and put them back in the suitcases. Taking turns, we washed up in the restrooms. We took note of ourselves in the mirror and decided we looked no worse than anyone else. Flight fashion was not a priority today.

    At 2pm, boarding for the Delta flight began. We walked around to the back and piled our luggage outside with the others.

    Nervously we handed over our boarding passes. Without even a gaze, we were ushered to the line to climb the steps to the plane.

    The air conditioning in the plane was a welcome feeling. After days of being in the heavy humity after Gilbert, this was perfect. The seats were comfortable. While we were on the runway, the stewardress came by and took our drink orders.

    Apparently the dropping of regulations applied to more than just check in.

    A cold beer hit the spot. The captain came on and announced that we would be ready to go a few minutes early and would be arriving at JFK by 6pm.

    As the plane taxied down the runway, the cabin filled with applause. We were on our way back home.

    The flight was smooth and uneventful. Drinks were flowing quite liberally, one last chance for that vacation feeling. As with take off, upon landing there was jubilant applause from the passengers.

    Walking the jetway to the terminal, we were welcomed back to NYC by the Delta staff. Smiles and a warm greeting brought a sense of comfort. Collecting our luggage, I noticed the strong urge to get rid of the beer that had been consumed during the past 4 hours. I told my travel partners that I was going to make a mad dash to the restroom and watch my luggage.

    Just as i was sprinting off, I was blinded by bright white lights! The network news was interviewing the first passengers off the first flight from Jamaica!

    With wide eyes and rapid fire speech, the interview took place in the JFK terminal.

    And that is how I ended up on the NBC Nightly News.

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  8. #18
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #18 Afterword

    This account was written on the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert. There was no preplanning and no consent was given by the others involved. Thus I included no individual names.

    It was the first time in decades that I had seriously thought about what had transpired during those days. Making sure I mentioned the main points, hundreds of things long forgotten were remembered but not recorded in this version. That is for the rewrite.

    Some odd things did take place. My Mom was worried about us and called our state representative. He told her that we were all okay. Only thing was, we were completely cut off from anyone after the hurricane and he could not have known how we were at all. He is dead now so no reason to give his name.

    The experience was life changing. Gilbert was the main reason that I chose to move to Jamaica.

    Thanks for reading.
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  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob View Post
    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #18 Afterword

    This account was written on the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert. There was no preplanning and no consent was given by the others involved. Thus I included no individual names.

    It was the first time in decades that I had seriously thought about what had transpired during those days. Making sure I mentioned the main points, hundreds of things long forgotten were remembered but not recorded in this version. That is for the rewrite.

    Some odd things did take place. My Mom was worried about us and called our state representative. He told her that we were all okay. Only thing was, we were completely cut off from anyone after the hurricane and he could not have known how we were at all. He is dead now so no reason to give his name.

    The experience was life changing. Gilbert was the main reason that I chose to move to Jamaica.

    Thanks for reading.
    What a incredibly written story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  10. #20
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    Re: Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - A Gilbert Story

    Loved this story, Rob. Thank you so much for sharing it. I was an Ohio transplant, living in Southern CA in September 1988 (now back in Ohio). Your detailed description of living through Hurricane Gilbert in Negril, the aftermath of the hurricane and your departure from Jamaica and back to the states made me feel as if I were there. It's understandable how that experience helped you decide to eventually make Negril your home.

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