Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Survive a Hurricane

Friday started out just like any other day. Ryan spent most of the day in class. I worked on some knitting projects, sent a few emails, went to the gym, and made my grocery list. We had planned to go out for dinner later that evening and then stop by IGA on the way home.

Sometime during the afternoon, I noticed a few friends here in Grenada started posting things on Facebook about a tropical cyclone heading our way. I had never heard of a tropical cyclone, much less that we were within a few hours of experiencing one. After a little research, I discovered that according to NHA, a tropical cyclone is the broader term for a storm that can be further classified as a hurricane, tropical storm, or tropical depression. I also saw that Tropical Storm Tomas was heading our direction and was scheduled to hit sometime on Saturday.

If you're like me, I had no idea where Grenada was located before we moved here. We are actually one of the southernmost countries in the Caribbean, just a couple hundred miles north of South America.

Typically, most hurricanes or tropical storms hit to the north of Grenada. One memorable exception is Hurricane Ivan which devastated Grenada in 2004.
Ivan passed directly over Grenada on September 7, 2004, killing 39 people. The capital, St. George, was severely damaged and several notable buildings were destroyed, including the residence of the prime minister. Ivan also caused extensive damage to a local prison, allowing most of the inmates to escape. The island, in the words of a Caribbean disaster official, suffered "total devastation." According to a member of the Grenadian parliament, at least 85% of the small island was devastated. Extensive looting was reported. In all, damage on the island totalled $815 million. - Wikipedia

Although Tomas was still catagorized as a Tropical Storm, the island was a little chaotic Friday evening. I heard someone outside our room say that businesses were closing at 4pm to allow employees time to make preparations. I immediately started doing laundry so we'd have clean clothes for a while if we lost our power and water during the storm. I also filled a gallon-sized pitcher with filtered water so we'd have some extra on hand. When Ryan got home from class around 5pm, we decided to leave for the grocery store immediately. At the bus stop, we saw that 50-60 other people had the same idea. We knew it would take a while to get on a bus, and began to call friends that we know have cars. As it turns out, one of those friends drove right past us as we were calling him. He was kind enough to pick us up and take us (along with a couple other friends) to the grocery store.

The usual 6-7 minute trip took over 20 minutes because of the traffic (and because there are no traffic laws in Grenada - you can drive wherever you can fit your car, pull out in front of people, pass on a two-lane road, and stop on the road to talk to someone on the sidewalk). As we pulled into the grocery store, huge rain drops started falling. We ran to the entrance, and saw that they closed at 5pm! I'm not sure if they ran out of food or if they just wanted to get home themselves. Either way, we piled back in the car and drove to Food Fair a couple minutes down the road. Fortunately, it was still open, but I'm quite sure they violated some fire code (if one exists down here) for the number of people in a building at one time.

The scene was chaotic! People were filling their carts with anything they could get their hands on. Apparently, they thought they wouldn't have access to a grocery store for a couple months. One person had 3 or 4 bags of flour and sugar in their cart. I'm not sure that's going to be much use if the island loses power, though! The five of us filled a couple small baskets with cereal, crackers, peanut butter, boxed milk, bottles of water, and juice. Then the fun began. The line for each cash register was literally to the back of the store. We probably waited in line for almost an hour and a half. A couple of our friends went next door to Rick's and ordered a few pizzas for dinner. We snacked on our crackers while we waited in line.

Finally, we made it through the craziness, and enjoyed a delicious dinner. By this time, the rain had stopped, and things looked relatively calm again. But we still expected the majority of the storm to hit on Saturday. That evening, we called my family, watched a movie, and went to bed praying that the storm would pass quickly.

The next morning, we woke up to gray skies and a very light rain. We checked the weather online, and we were no longer in the path of the storm! Tomas had moved north of us during the night. It was still expected to become a hurricane as it continued on it's path, but we were so thankful to be spared from it this time! I called my family again to let them know we were fine, and Ryan headed back to the library for the rest of the day.

We actually experienced a little more of the storm during church on Sunday morning. Heavier rains and wind came through the area, but nothing dangerous at all. So our first experience with a hurricane in the Caribbean was a little anti-climactic. Not that anyone is complaining, though! I'll be heading to the grocery store again this afternoon to get some real food for the week as we can't live on peanut butter crackers for very much longer.

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