When Hurricane Ivan hit Grand Cayman in 2004, so savage and unyielding was the storm that many thought they would not survive. Such was the devastation the Category 5 hurricane wreaked, many were grateful just to be alive, left with only the clothes on their backs. Homes smashed into oblivion, cars washed away, possessions and documents destroyed. It was carnage.
Ivan ravaged Grand Cayman for with the most frightening winds, rains and storm surge from 11 September for 36 terrifying hours, leaving thousands without shelter, electricity or running water for months.
The eye of the storm passed around 15 miles of Grand Cayman, striking the island with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, gusts of up to 217 mph, and a storm surge of seawater of up to 10 feet, with wave heights of 20-30 feet, submerging most of the Island. It looked like an apocalypse.
Ivan took the lives of two people on Grand Cayman and it displaced thousands, many leaving permanently. The most affected districts were George Town, Bodden Town and East End. Together these districts account for 75 percent of the total population on Grand Cayman. Hundreds were treated for lacerations, wounds, fractures and burns. Homes situated on the sea shore, in low lying, or swampy areas suffered the most severe damage. Older and less well constructed housing was also severely affected.
The total economic impact was devastating, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Thankfully, there was a strong community spirit and through great resolve, the efficiency of local and international services, Grand Cayman was able to rebuild relatively quickly.
Insurance coverage while it was widespread for both the private sector and government infrastructure only covered part of the assets damaged or destroyed and in most cases did not cover income lost or the business interruption. It was a time of great hardship and suffering for those with limited resources. Hurricane monitoring experts estimated that the amount of per capita damage and losses was US$75,700 per person. This figure is the highest ever encountered.
It was a wakeup call, adhered by all. Since Hurricane Ivan the Cayman Islands have enhanced their hazard management programme and strategy. In keeping with post Ivan impact recommendations and sound international strategies the Government established an office to be the focal point of disaster risk management. Hazard Management Cayman Islands which became fully operational in January 2008.
The recovery from Hurricane Ivan was a national effort and the subsequent effort to make the Cayman Islands better prepared and more resilient to hurricanes has involved every sector of the community, from Government agencies, to the private industry, to charitable donors and volunteers from a range of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as the Red Cross and the Adventist Disaster Relief Agency.
Some significant strides made in enhancing the preparedness and response mechanism for the Cayman Islands include:
- The retrofitting and strengthening of shelters, and upgrading their level of self-sufficiency, so that each shelter can operate in isolation for extended periods of time
- The development of a storm surge atlas to better identify flood prone areas
- The protection of road infrastructure through the construction of sea walls and increased elevation of new roads
- The development of a hazard focused, informational website Caymanprepared.ky
- The development of a national hurricane plan
Cayman Islands Premier Wayne Panton said: “In two years’ time we will mark the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Ivan and recall the struggles we went through as a people and a country during and in the wake of that storm’s devastation. Ivan lay bare Grand Cayman and just four years later, Hurricane Paloma destroyed Cayman Brac.
“We know what storms can do and none of us wants to experience another Hurricane Ivan or Paloma or a strong Tropical Storm such as Grace. Unfortunately, the possibility is very real.”
Panton points out that the official hurricane season started on 1 June but this is the time of the year when the storms are most frequent and fiercest. Predictions are that this is an abnormally high storm season. “If you haven’t already done so, stock up on your hurricane supplies and make sure you have hurricane plans for your homes, businesses and your families.
“Yes, the predictions are dire, but I have every confidence in the measures that my Government, Hazard Management, the National Weather Service and others have taken to ensure that we can bravely face any storms that may come our way.
Some photos compliments Deep Blue Images