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

  1. #1
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - A Gilbert Story

    Thirty years ago on the Negril beach, and not much was different. It was quiet again, being slow season, so we decided to walk down to the Treehouse to enjoy sunset. The sky colors were incredible this Sunday afternoon, we didn’t know at the time that the pastels were being influenced by the weather that would soon invade our peaceful paradise.

    The bands of clouds off in the distance helped to layer the hues, creating some true Kodak moments. We all voted and chose this sunset to be the best of the trip and possibly the best one we had ever seen!

    Treehouse had provided great service and cold beverages as usual, a perfect way to get ready for a night out on the beach! Live reggae tonight, the 10th of September! Four more days left in our vacation...

    After sunset, we made our way back to the Native Son Villas and enjoyed a great hot meal of fresh fish prepared to perfection by the Villas' cook. We relaxed for a while, then set out to Alfred's for their Sunday show. Live reggae at Alfred's was the place to people watch even thirty years ago.

    Alfred's was just beginning to fill up when we arrived at 10:30pm. There was no cover charge but limited seating. We planted ourselves to watch the show.

    Some smoke and drink and all was well with the world! The band jammed late into the night as we exchanged small talk with the other tourists and the locals at Alfred's. The band ended about 3am, we still weren’t tired so we walked down the beach toward the roundabout. There were a few all night spots that would cater to those not willing to call it a night and we visited most of them before throwing in the towel for the evening.
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #2 Gilbert approaches

    There had been no talk by anyone about any weather concerns on the horizon. It had been an excellent party time...

    Waking early with the sun, the scent of Jamaican coffee drew us to the kitchen. We huddled around the sacred coffee pot. Ah, the good morning Blue Mountain brew...

    We heard something outside and went to the open kitchen door. We noticed that the cook and groundsman were unusually excited about something. Apparently they heard it on the news. We were moderately hungover and ignored their animated banter. It was early Monday morning and we had a busy day to plan! Been meaning to visit the falls this trip but so far sand gravity had been winning. But it was a new day with great expectations!

    The noise outside got louder then it cut off abruptly. The groundsman, was strutting off triumphantly toward the main road. The cook came in through the open door. She looked serious, which didn't strike us as a very good sign that early in the morning. We hadn't even finished our coffee yet.

    Her present state was very out of character from the previous four days. We were introduced to her on Thursday by the groundsman who also happened to be the Villas taxi driver. And now it seemed like we were going to find out what all the early morning fuss was about.

    The cook told us not to fret but we may need to take some precautions because a hurricane was on its way. Huh? What? Well, okay....

    None of us had any idea what this meant. We had never been through a hurricane and we essentially knew nothing about them. Being from Ohio we knew tornadoes, not hurricanes. We weren't from Florida.

    We listened and tried to comprehend her somewhat brief explanation and suggestions. Not completely understanding her because of the Jamaican patois explanation, it was felt it would be best to confirm what was supposed to be a major change to our vacation plans.

    The cook suggested we turn on the news.

    Not really believing what we had heard, we did as suggested. Turning on the only source of outside information, the radio, it was already tuned to our favourite station, IRIE FM. There was nothing but reggae on IRIE FM which did seem to momentarily settle the issue. IRIE was playing Bob, we were cool.

    The cook was not amused by our instant ignorance but politely smiled and changed the station to a much more official sounding one. The anxious announcer's voice blasted through the villa. The Prime Minister was going to be coming up momentarily!

    Okay, this canít be good.

    The latest news from the government disaster services was the obvious official word. And the official word was that a hurricane named Gilbert was just hours away from making landfall in Kingston.

    Hmmm.... Okay, now what did that mean? We were clueless.
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  3. #3
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #3 Gilbert prep begins

    Learning what this meant became the number one priority. The Villas staff was busy making the necessary preparations for the property. What did we need to do?

    All the utilities, both water and electricity would go down, but that was no big deal. They were down for the most part anyway. Figuring that most restaurant employees will be busy dealing with their own preparations, there would be no relying on the local restaurants for food today. The bars would be closed. We will be needing food and booze. That made sense. We felt smart and congratulated ourselves for our ingenuity. But the store is not open! Will it open?

    It was still early, the winds were just beginning to pick up. It was a few hours until Gilbert was scheduled to hit Kingston. The cook suggested we go to the store and pick up supplies to get us through the next few days. So much for feeling smart.

    Mentioning the store isn't open, she assured us they would be. Thinking this may be a wasted gesture, we agreed. We located the groundsman and we all went off to the store by the roundabout.

    The store was open as promised and packed with scrambling tourists, apparently everyone had the same idea. The shelves were barren but this wasn't anything new. There was never much of a selection anyway. We did our best to get whatever canned food, pasta and pasta sauce we could find as well as a good amount of bully beef and cheese at the direction of the cook. We would need to pay more attention to her suggestions in the future. Adding to the food we stocked up on beer, drinks, bread and rum. We felt we had done a great job shopping and shot back to the villas.

    Arriving back, we began scanning the radio stations for the latest. Information seemed imperative at this point. Even IRIE FM had gone to an all news format so we felt we were on the right track. The PM had addressed the nation and reassured no one. He had not found out about the hurricane much earlier than we had.

    The weather was degrading rapidly with periods of gusty wind and light rain beginning to form into a noticeable pattern. While at the store, the groundsman had tried to locate plywood to cover the windows to no avail. We hadn't even thought about the windows. Apparently this storm was a bigger deal than we imagined.

    Kingston was already getting strong winds according to IRIE. Roofs were starting to tear off and the zinc sheets would fly through the air. This was beginning to make us a bit concerned.

    We went outside to check the sea, and it was already starting to churn, producing a novelty in Negril, surfable waves! We thought it would be cool to find a surfboard, but Negril being Negril, there was never a use for a surfboard. Since the idea of surfing was a non starter, we decided to break into the beers. We had heard of hurricane parties.

    The beers helped to remove the remaining edge to the hangovers, it seemed breakfast was in order. The cook had been busy making up some scrambled eggs. It hit the spot!

    It was now about 9am, most of the radio announcers began losing it. Since they were all located on the eastern end of the island, they were already feeling really heavy winds and rain. Some of the stations had already gone off the air. We changed to the most informative station just in time to catch their last radio broadcast stating that "Kingston has been destro....."

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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #4 Gilbert hits

    The radio was finished as apparently was Kingston.

    The sky was darkening as the morning passed and a rhythm of rain and wind began. First wind and rain, then still, then more wind and rain followed again by more stillness. This went on and on, relentlessly.

    The groundsman and his crew had done about all they could to get the property ready for the upcoming storm. The cook seemed in as good spirits as one could hope for considering the circumstances. There was now nothing left to do but wait.

    The day grew darker as noon approached. The electricity went off. It was about this time that the strong winds began to sustain themselves. The rhythmic nature of the winds and rains ceased almost as if a switch has been thrown. It was time to close up our sea front villa and ride the storm out.

    We lost track of time. The day was so dark it seemed like night. The wind was howling as the rain hit the shutters harder by the minute. As minutes turned to hours, we began to realize that all of us, the locals and tourists alike, were going to experience something that none of us had before!

    The last hurricane that hit Jamaica was 1951. None of the locals were 37 yet so no one remembered Hurricane Charlie. The groundsman, being 35, remembered some of the stories he had heard growing up and related what he could about Charlie, but didn't recall all the details. None of this was making anyone feel better.

    Every now and then the high wooden ceiling would snap with a loud crack! The wind and pressure were trying to rip the villa roof off. The groundsman decided to venture out to make sure everything was holding. The door to the villa was on the opposite side of the sea. Upon opening, the door nearly ripped off the hinges. We held the door as the groundsman got as low as he could and made his way outside. The door slammed shut behind him.

    Waiting for what seemed like an hour, the groundsman finally knocked on the door and we cracked it open. He grabbed it and squeezed his way inside without opening the door more than absolutely necessary. He was drenched and out of breath. We pulled him in the living room area and sat him on the leather couch.

    Once he caught his breath, he explained that the wind was like nothing he had ever seen! The rain was blowing sideways, stinging his skin on any part exposed. The wind was blowing directly from the north and got stronger while he was outside.

    When he got up to change his clothes, he let us know the roof looked good on all the villas. But the sea was beginning to get close to our front villa and we should get ready to move to the back villa if the water comes in.

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  5. #5
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #5 front of Gilbert

    Not the most encouraging update we could have received.

    There was no electricity, no fridge and the radio was on battery as long as that lasted. The roof kept wanting to come off. The sea was coming in fora frontal assault. Howling winds, sideways rains, thunder and lightning like you have never experienced. It was about that time we noticed the windows.

    Never having been in a hurricane, we had no idea what to expect. And while the groundsman had mentioned plywood and the windows, we really didn't put it together until we saw it.

    At this time, late afternoon, there was still enough light to detect the windows in the villa. The glass in the larger picture windows were bowing in. They were being bent inwards as if trying to come out of their frames. It was possible to push back on the window glass and feel it move back toward the outside. And then we thought about what we were doing and got away from the windows. The glass could easily shatter and severely hurt or even kill anyone nearby.

    We called the groundsman and he went to get the tape. We then made big tape X's on the windows to help keep them from bending in. Thus we found out, in our giddy stupidity, why there are X's on glass panes during hurricanes.

    As the deep booming sound of the roof trying to rip itself continued every 30 seconds or so, we noticed an increasing amount of dust on the floor. At first we just thought it was brought in by the wind. But it was collecting too evenly over the entire house to be wind. The dust that had been in the roof for years was now depositing itself. It had been raining down on us all for hours. There was no way to stop it and pointless to clean it.

    We had been in the hurricane winds for about 4 hours now and things were still building. The wind was getting stronger. The rain was getting heavier. The light outside was being blocked now by the dark sky. We could only see outside when the lightning flashed. Candles were our only way to get light inside...

    It was around 5 when we started to hope that the wind could not get much stronger. We couldn't take it much longer but of course we had no choice.

    There was a constant mishmash of sounds outside, dull thumps, sharp shattering and neverending smashing. Most of the sounds were coming from the northern wall and the roof. The northern wall sound was a key to help us understand the hurricane.

    Finding an island map representation on a wall picture at the top of the steps, we tried to figure out where the hurricane and how much was left. The sound had been coming from the northern wall for the most part today,this had been a constant.

    Not knowing which way a hurricane spun, we tried to duplicate what winds could be creating the sounds the sounds we were hearing. Spinning our fingers in a circular motion over the island map, it became apparent that the winds were coming at us from the north due to a counterclockwise rotation of the hurricane. There was no other way to explain it. And it also became apparent that Negril was going to be getting close to a direct hit! The eye would pass over close to us otherwise the winds would have been more varied.

    There is no way to determine the size of a hurricane by spinning your fingers over a map, so we sat back and waited to see if our wind predictions would hold true. We didn't have to wait long because other things drew our attention...

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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #6 Realization

    While we were upstairs spinning our fingers and looking at the map, the storm surge from Gilbert was invading the villa. Returning back downstairs, we went into the living room area. There was limited visibility but the sloshing of our feet on the floor was unmistakable. We scrambled for the candles and found that the sea was now in the living room.

    At first it was a small puddle, nothing that a mop wouldn't be able to clean up. In just a few more seconds, the time for two waves, the puddle turned into a river. It was time to move to higher ground, which was the villa behind this one.

    We quickly grabbed everything we thought we would need as we tried to raise everything else off the floor. Acting more on impulse, we got ready to make the move.

    The wind was screaming. There is no way to adequately describe the sound. There were projectiles of every size and description hurling through the air. Rain was so heavy that is was hard to see your hand in front of your face. And this is what we had to go through to get to the next villa.

    The groundsman decided he should go first to make sure the path was clear and everything unlocked. There was no way to use anything such as an umbrella or tarp for protection, it would be ripped to shreds instantly. The only way to do it was go as fast as possible and hope for the best.

    Cracking the door open, two of us braced the door. It was nearly impossible to hold. The groundsman tried to get out the door but we could not maintain the crack opening. The door slammed shut. The speed of the wind was too great, preventing us from keeping the door open. There would be no moving at this point. The storm was too wild.

    The groundsman was relieved that he didn't have to go. He admitted that he thought he was not going to make it. We all silently took a moment to take in the enormity of the hurricane. This was not something to take lightly. This was a life and death situation.

    The sea in the living room once again became our main concern. We all tried to come up with ideas, but in the end we decided if the worst happened, we would all move upstairs. Trying to go outside had convinced us to take the path of least resistance.
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #7 Building

    While we were all staring blankly at the water surging in the living room, the sounds from outside increased. The battering on the villa became constant. There was no longer a break between the impacts, just solid noise. It was impossible to grasp what was happening.

    Everything we had been adjusting to for the last 6 hours had become irrelevant. This was something new, something terrifying. Horrendous clashing of howling wind, objects disintegrating, rain hammering and tremendous creaking from all areas of the villa.

    It just kept building and building with no let up. we were all shaking with unknown fear, unfocused adrenaline scoring through our brains. Someone ran to a nearby closet and we all joined them, cramped in the closet and slammed the door. Total darkness in the madness. Survival. Terror. No words.

    The villa was quaking. Two stories of concrete block shaking, the roof throbbing. Window glass shattering. More howling. The crescendo was awesome. Louder, wilder, faster...

    Then quiet. We looked at each other as if to confirm we were still there. The sounds had stopped. An eerie silence filled the villa. No one made a sound. Opening the door, an odd light filled the closet.

    There was light coming in the windows. Not understanding, we all snaked our way out of the closet. Looking around there was water, sand, broken glass, candle wax coming into view. The groundsman made a dash to the main door.

    The door we could not hold open just a short time ago was now inviting us to go outside. Going to the door and peering out was surreal. What had seconds ago been a living nightmare was now a quiet, serene disaster. Trees, branches, planks, bricks, zinc sheets all strewn in a random yet blanketing manner across the complex.

    We ventured outside. Destruction everywhere. It was hard to comprehend. No one was saying anything, trying to take in, trying to understand what we were seeing.

    And then we looked up at the sky.

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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #8 The Eye of Gilbert

    Gasping in awe, the most unbelievable sight was above us. The eye of the hurricane was directly overhead.

    As if looking up from the bottom of an incredibly large bucket, a perfect circle of daylight shown above. Little wispy clouds at varying altitudes gave depth to the awesome sight. The walls of this massive bucket were a dark, grey churning mass of air currents, the winds of the eye wall.

    Gazing at the closest section, the part that had just passed looked eerily solid, moving so fast, creating an illusion of a solid wall. It was actually whipping around in enormous circular pattern. Amazing.

    Above us, the last moments of daylight were taking place. There was a sunset out there, but we couldn't see it. The pastels were highlighting the uppermost tips of the bucket cloud.

    It was difficult to move around due to the water, trees and branches on the ground. The sea which had been some 50 yards from the villa was now coming up around us, we were walking in the Caribbean.

    Coconuts, wood, sections of boats and other broken items were washing in and out with each roaring wave. Sand was being deposited, covering our feet with each pass.

    While we had the daylight, the groundsman was taking inventory of the damages. Noting the sea against the front villa, he instructed us to begin moving the supplies and gear to the back villa. It was at this point we noticed the wind in the eye.

    Stories are told about the eye of the hurricane being calm, for Gilbert it was only calmer. Having just experienced the shrieking full force winds of the eye wall, the current winds seemed like nothing. While moving our supplies the wind was noticeable. Anything not held down would fly off and get caught up in a place out of reach due to the damage surrounding us.

    The cloud bucket kept inching its way across the sky as the light overhead dimmed while the sun dipped deeper down the unseen horizon.

    As day once again turned to night, a blinking light became visible in the sky. There was a plane flying inside of this sky bucket. What kind of fool would be flying in this?

    Looking around in the semi darkness of night gave a strange sense of calm. This ceased instantly as we all began to run to the second villa. The brain reacted instinctively. As quickly as it had stopped, an enormous roaring shrieking sound came upon us. As we entered the villa we came to realize the eye wall was back.

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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #9 back of Gilbert

    Catching our breath in the second villa, that incredible horrifying wind noise was immediately back. Screeching beyond auditory limits, there was no build up this time, just instant terror, gut wrenching screaming wind.

    But there was something different about the rebirth, something strange. As we huddled in the new villa's closet, there was a new direction for the sound. It was coming from the southern wall. The winds were now coming from the opposite direction!

    The barrage of projectiles on the villa were worse than the first pass of the eye wall. There were larger sounds, thuds and explosions that rocked the building. Even with the hail of objects against the villa, being together in the small quarters gave everyone a sense of comfort for the first time in hours.

    We stayed cramped in the closet while the wind wailed. Continuous cracking and thumping against the villa walls became the norm. We stayed silently in our small safety zone as the tumultuous conditions continued.

    As time went on, gradually the noise outside began to slow down. When this was mentioned there was a collective sigh of relief. We could breath again. Shortly we began to feel at ease enough to talk while the worst of the winds kept winding down.

    At first we exchanged small talk in this completely lightless closet. A few jokes were made to lighten the mood, but the tension was still filling the small space. Not being able to take it any longer, the cook broke down and began to cry. Chest deep cries, hard sobbing cries. The stress of the last 7 hours had taken their toll on all of us, she was just the first to express it.

    We tried our best to comfort her in the darkness. She finally regained her composure and breathlessly said that her little girl was home alone back at their house.

    We were dumbstruck.

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  10. #10
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    Thirty Years Ago on the Beach - #10 - Survivors

    How could this be? Why? No one wanted to hear this devasting information. This had to be addressed as soon as the weather allowed.

    It was at this moment we were no longer tourists, we became survivors. Our first duty was to help this woman find her child.

    The winds had calmed enough for us to feel secure leaving the confines of the cramped closet.

    There was no way that we could adequately feel what the cook was going through, missing her only child. We did our best to provide comfort and talked more with the cook to gain whatever insight we could into what needed to be done to assist her.

    Her house was in Green Island, which was about 20 minutes north of Negril. Her neighbors watched her daughter when she was working, so she was probably with one of them. Probably. 'Probably' is a terrible thing to have to rely on. It was all she had.

    The cook had no idea if the neighbors would have known the hurricane was coming. The 'probably' was sounding less probable. If the first half of the storm was any measure, there were still hours left of these wild winds. It was already into the evening, nothing would be able to be done until morning. The only thing to do was try to take her mind off this tragic situation.

    The cook asked what we would like for dinner. We put a stop to that at once. We would prepare the food tonight. There is no more guest/staff concept, we are all in this together.

    Dinner options were discussed by candle light and pasta was agreed upon. We still had the LP gas available for cooking and the cook had stored water earlier. The tap water had stopped before the eye hit and the groundsman had to lock off the main and turn on the tank water after the storm ended.

    Dinner preparation gave us a sense of normalcy from what had so far been a harrowing experience.

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