Hurricane Hugo 1989A personal retelling
The following is a blow by blow account of Hurricane Hugo, as witnessed by two VSO’s in Dominica.
Friday 15th September 1989
Steve first hears that Hugo is approaching Dominica. Sources put the probability of it passing close as 80%, 50% or 25%. Phone call to Simon at home on Point Michel – arrange to meet to panic-shop at 4:00p.m. Six pack of beer first item purchased. Later, Steve wins four games to two at pool putting him 18-11 in the series. Simon’s gloom is lifted by a magnificent 5-3 victory at pool by Manchester United (Steve and Simon) over Point Michel (James and Gerald).
The news that Hugo is taking a direct line to Dominica. Steve and Simon panic-pack their humble belongings (portable computer, bicycle, t.v., hi-fi etc.) and find a safe location for the motorbike. The decision is made to stay in No.1 Pointe Michel, and essential items are moved into the back bedroom which will become ‘The Bunker’. The weather slowly deteriorates. At Philbert’s Bar, local pundits put the time of Hugo’s arrival around 4:00 p.m. The first act of looting takes place- Simon takes unfair advantage of the situation by beating Steve nine games to three at pool, while Steve takes an anxious eye at the increasingly rougher sea. The wind gets stronger.
Arriving home from Philbert’s, the boys are met with the sight of a flooded lounge- someone had left the front door unlocked and the wind had blown it open, driving rain inside. Mopping up operation, Part One. About 2:00p.m., the water supply is switched off. More panic-buying beer and candles.
As evening comes, Steve and Simon settle down for a long night. Simon wins the first of several games of Risk (World domination game for up to six players). By now glued to the radio, things are looking bleak. Estimated time of arrival is now 2:00a.m on Sunday morning. The wind gets stronger. The sea gets rougher. At 11:00p.m. the lights flicker and the power goes off. Steve is tired and goes to bed, abandoning Simon in The Bunker for his own bed…
At 3:30 a.m. Steve is woken up by the noises of the sea and the rain. Returning to the Bunker, Simon is already awake and monitoring the progress of Hugo on the radio. Only fifty miles away, but now heading in a West northwesterly direction- towards Guadeloupe.During a respite in the weather, they watch the 10 or 15 feet waves crash on the beach right up the road.
As dawn breaks, the people of Point Michel venture out to survey the damage. Much of the road is covered by debris, thrown by the still raging sea.”Surf City!” Simon exclaims. Along the road the cliff has collapsed slightly and the sea has eaten into the road, making passage impossible. We are cut off from the outside world! Time for yet another cup of tea, And game of Risk. Steve scores a rare victory.
Later, taking a medicinal rum and coke at Philbert’s Bar, the boys watch a once dry gutter turn into a raging torrent. Flash Flood warning! A sortie to assess the damage is cut short by a torrential rain.
That evening, the electric storm begins, with thunder loud enough to shake the house. Damage reports from around the island say that the Northeast has been hit the hardest; extensive flooding in Portsmouth and Canefield; the bridge at Belfast has collapsed. Guadeloupe took the full force of Hugo, with several dead and three thousand homeless. Another night in No.1, Point Michel.
Rough seas still do not deter the cleaning up operation, with all hands to the wheel, except for Steve and Simon who manage another couple of games of pool (and Simon finally draws level in the series at 23-23). At around 10:00am the water comes back on, just after Steve has a shower using only three cups of water.
The motorbike is retrieved, safe and sound. The VSO Recon. Team makes a flight North into town. The damage in the South of the island is assessed: Soufriere is under a foot of sand, and Scott’s Head is isolated by having a pebble beach on the road.
And finally after 46 hours, the electricity is restored. Steve and Simon celebrate with a couple of bottles of Stout and several rum and cokes…