Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's Hurricane Season!

Hurricane season is upon us down here in the Caribbean.  In fact, for those of you that don't know, Hurricane season runs from June through October, so hurricane season is nearly half the year.  There's been a lot of hubbub about hurricanes since the season began last month.  Mainly, I think the local islanders like telling the 'new girl' all of their hurricane stories.  So, I have heard quite a bit about the after-effect of these tropical storms.

In particular people love telling stories about Hugo and Maryland, which apparently were two of the worst, relatively recent, hurricanes to hit the VI.  My trusty Lonely Planet book said that Hugo destroyed 90% of St. Croix when it hit.  And, since I'm in the insurance industry you can only imagine the Property and Casualty 'horror stories' I've heard from my co-workers.  Apparently, there were no insurers wanting to offer P&C coverage after Hugo because the damage was so bad.  However, prior to Hugo the islands hadn't been hit by a hurricane for years and years, so developers got lazy, which was part of the reason for so much destruction.  Now buildings are built within hurricane code to prevent such a disaster.

I've heard several stories about how long the power was out after Maryland hit.  Depending on who's telling this power outage tale, it was out anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months after Maryland.  And, I actually believe that a hurricane could send WAPA into a complete tailspin (see "Lights Out" posting), so 2 months without power is feasible, but hard for me to imagine.  Keep in mind that there is no water if there is no power, so showering and washing dishes is out of the question.  Can you imagine going to work with a bunch of people, including yourself, that haven't showered in weeks?  I'm picturing us all turning into a bunch of hippies with stinky B.O. and long armpit hair.

There are countless other examples of post-hurricane life on St. Thomas.  People have told me about mad rushes on delivery trucks carrying ice after weeks without power left islanders desperate for cold drinks.  And, there are similar stories about gas, so I've been warned to keep my tank half full this time of year.  ATM machines don't work if the power is out, so many have cautioned me to keep a good quantity of small bills on-hand.  Flat tires are common since hurricane winds can blow all kinds of sharp objects into the roads, so it's important to have the right tools on-hand to fix a flat when necessary.  Considering all of this, it's clear that life after a storm can leave people somewhat desperate.  With this in mind, the local island government does impose and strictly enforces curfews to keep people safe and orderly during and after a storm, which is reassuring.

However, what's most surprising to me is that nobody ever talks about the actual storms.  I haven't heard one person talk about how powerful the winds can get, or how high the ocean waves can be.  Nobody has ever described any rain, lightening or thunder that these forces of nature bring.  And, I can't help but wonder what the atmosphere is like before and after the storms.  Is there a calmness before and/or after the storm?  I don't even know if a hurricane blows through quickly, or if they last for a few days.  So, while I have some idea what to expect after the storm, I have to admit that I'm a bit curious about the actual storm itself. 

Recently, my favorite blog (see my favorite St. Thomas links) posted a checklist of all the items one should have on-hand this time of year.  Some of these items include, a battery operated radio, plenty of non-perishable food, enough water, blankets, cash, candles, a generator, extra gas for the generator...and the list went on and on.  Considering this list, I took it upon myself to buy a radio, some canned food, plenty of Ramen Noodles and some cash.  Call me a naive, but the blog list seemed overly extensive.

In fact, the odds of us getting hit by a storm are shockingly unlikely.  This morning when I started panicking about my boyfriend being away on a business trip during a time of year when a hurricane could hit at any moment, he calmed me down by sending me to a St. Thomas sponsored website that reported only 14 hurricanes or tropical storms have impacted (not necessarily hit) the island since 1900.  These include storms that may be approaching the island, but don't in fact hit the island.  This breaks down into only 1 storm every 8 years.  Since Ivan hit the island last year, it's highly unlikely that I will experience a hurricane this year.  After all the hype, I'll admit that I'm somewhat disappointed by this statistic.  It's likely that I'll never have the privilege of experiencing months without a shower.

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