By Christopher Tobutt
Those who were here will never forget it. It changed our lives and changed the way we looked at nature and her beauty but also her fearsome strength, and it changed the Cayman Islands. Cayman Water Authority held a special exhibition, to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of Hurricane Ivan. It was also a time to reflect and consider the suffering in the Bahamas, in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, and there were Cayman Islands Red Cross staff there, ready to collect donations from people who had stopped by to remember, and share memories as they ate some of the nice buffet food and drank some fruit punch provided.
Nobody was prepared for the 150 mile-an-hour winds, sometimes rising to 220 miles an hour. Nobody was prepared for the 12 inches of rain that fell. But most of all, nobody was prepared for the terrible storm surge, in places as high as 10 feet, which devastated many homes across the island, and made families panic as the water level rose higher and higher.
Water Authority Corporate Communications Officer Edlyn, Ruiz who was just a teenager at the time, was lucky because she managed to get to safety: “I got on one of the last planes out and I was able to meet up with my mother in Miami. Our family was incredibly lucky because there was minimum damage to our home.
“Like a lot of other people and organisations, Hurricane Ivan really changed our perspective on what it means to be prepared, and what it means to be resilient. In the Water Authority our equipment was damaged and we had to invest in making sure that our equipment was there, and also that our network is more resilient. But we didn’t think it was right to let this 15th anniversary go by without taking a moment to really reflect on what happened to us as an organisation and what happened to us as an island,” she said, “and we thought it was a good opportunity to push that message of preparedness, because that is really an important message for us, and is something that we focus on all the time. We try to make sure we are prepared and also help our customers in the community be prepared.”
One of the people who was here during Fred Moncrieffe, was talking over some Ivan-memories with some friends: “The house that I was raised up in it survived all the other hurricanes, but that morning I couldn’t believe. And when I came out of Belford I couldn’t believe what I saw. I had major damage, but the neighbours around me didn’t have any house. What saved me was my house was on a higher foundation,” he said. He said he felt sympathy with the people of Abaco Island.
Moni Guemnin said: “I wasn’t actually here for Hurricane Ivan, but I’ve lived through different hurricanes. I have lived through Matthew, I lived through Andrew, Maria and Irma. I’m from the Bahamas, and I actually work in Disaster-response.”
15 years later the islands have changed, and now we are much better prepared. One of the big display panels listed some of the changes, including the establishment of Hazard Management Cayman Islands in 2007, the development of a National Hurricane Plan, the development of a storm-surge atlas, and the establishment of the Community Emergency Response Team network.