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HURRICANE IVAN - 17 years on

Hurricane Watch 09 Sep, 2021 Follow News

2016 Hurricane Season Update

By staff Writer


Considering the rather tranquil weather conditions currently gracing Cayman a hurricane might the last thing on the minds of many residents.

There are no immediate indications of any potential ‘storm on the horizon’, and monster Category 3 Hurricane Larry is far away to the north of Cayman (spare a thought for Bermuda).

It might be easy to forget that we are at the peak of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.

But embedded in the collective Caymanian memory are vivid recollections of Hurricane Ivan of September 12th, 2004.

And 17 years later, the 2021 hurricane season is turning out to be a year to remember. Hurricane Larry out in the Atlantic in the general vicinity of Bermuda and heading towards the eastern US and Canadian coastline, has already set a record of being the longest-lived, major hurricane in the Atlantic.

Cayman was way out of the path of Larry but the brush we had recently with Hurricane Ida, was a sobering reminder of the destructive force of hurricanes, and none more so than the anniversary that’s seared in the collective Caymanian memory.

On September 12th, 2004, Hurricane Ivan brought its full Category 5 destructive force to bear on these islands.

In its wake, paradise was almost lost. But with true Caymanian courage paradise was regained and rebuilt from the over 2 billion dollars in direct property damage and over half a billion dollars to the economy caused by Hurricane Ivan.

Two people lost their lives.

Lessons have been learnt. Awareness has been heightened, the disaster preparedness and response systems upgraded, and Cayman is better placed to cope (we hope) - as evidenced from the seriousness that most people attach to the hurricane season.

Some policies are unfortunately still lagging behind despite repeated ministerial pledges and political campaign promises to address them as matters of priority. Among those are upgrading the drainage system which quite literally strains to cope, coastline encroachments to accommodate property developments, and threats to the natural barrier of the mangrove network.

But as we look around, it’s clear that Cayman has bounced back economically from the devastation of Hurricane Ivan twenty years ago.

The question is; although lessons have clearly been learnt, are they all being applied?

Awareness and preparedness for particular storms can only be as effective as the systems and processes in place to mitigate damage from adverse weather conditions, especially severe storms that venture into the local area.

Many who lived through the hours of horror of Hurricane Ivan and ‘weathered’ the deprivations of its aftermath will be reminiscing on that period.

September 12th, 2001, and the days, months and years of recovery which followed are now indelible reminders and permanent fixtures in both the Cayman calendar - and we hope, mindset.

The 2021 hurricane season is far from over. There have already been a few close calls to date even, some even before the season officially started.

Concerns over climate change and the vulnerability of low-lying islands such as the Cayman Islands make heightened awareness an even greater requirement for these islands.



Hurricane Ivan was a “classical” long lived Cape Verde hurricane. It has been categorized as one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the Caribbean in recorded history. On September 2 Ivan developed into a tropical depression, it became a tropical storm on the following day and reached hurricane status on 5 September. On September 7 and 8 it damaged 90 percent of the homes in Grenada and killed 16 people. By Thursday morning on September 9, Ivan’s sustained winds reached 160 mph making it a rare category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. On September 11 Ivan began affecting the sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman with tropical storm winds and Grand Cayman began experiencing tropical storm winds later that afternoon.

According to information from the National Weather Service the centre of Ivan was located 113 miles SE of Grand Cayman by 10 pm, and at that time hurricane force winds of over 100 miles per hour were already being experienced on the island. At 5am on Sunday the storm surge from the North Sound was peaking at 10 feet (National Weather Service).

The hurricane made its closest approach at 10 am on Sunday when the eye passed 21 miles SW of the Grand Cayman with winds of 150 mph and gusts of 220 mph. As the storm continued on its track, storm surge and battering waves heavily affected the south coast of Grand Cayman. Ivan was a slow-moving hurricane which increased the exposure of the Island to hurricane force winds as well as increased the total amount of rain.

Hurricane Ivan took the lives of two persons on Grand Cayman and it temporarily displaced significant proportions of the population.

All persons experienced the loss of electricity, water and access to telecommunications for some period immediately following the disaster.

The three most affected districts were George Town, Bodden Town and East End. Together these three districts account for 75% of the total population on Grand Cayman. 402 people were treated for lacerations, wounds, removal of foreign bodies, fractures and burns as a result of the disaster. However, the general health and wellbeing of the population was good and was well maintained by dedicated health care professionals, first responders and the kindness of neighbours.

The total economic impact to the Cayman Islands was estimated by the United Nations ECLAC team to be 3.4 billion (183 % of GDP). Approximately 83% or 13,535 units of the total housing stock in the Grand Cayman suffered some degree of damage. Dwellings which were situated on the seashore, in low lying, or swampy areas suffered the most severe damage. Older and less well constructed housing was also severely affected.

Four per cent (4%) of homes that were affected were so severely damaged that they required complete reconstruction. 70%, or 9, 475, dwellings suffered severe damage which resulted from sea surge or damage caused by winds to roofs, windows and doors. The remaining 26% or 3,519 dwellings, suffered minor damage caused by partial roof removal, low levels of water inundation, or flying roofs and floating objects such as containers. The total financial effect on the housing sector was estimated at CI$1,444,868,244. (1.4 billion) The financial effect on the finance (commerce) and tourism sectors were estimated at around CI$ 460 million each.

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