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A story on disaster: Hurricane Irma and the Virgin Islands

By Dickson Igwe, Contributor

This Old Boy manages a Facebook page he has named the Geography Game.

On his page, he downloads data and information specific to geography, and how geography impacts human life. His page also attempts to give a weekly weather update uniquely narrated for swimmers and boaters.

Yours truly is an American Red Cross Ocean Safety instructor certifier. He is also a British Amateur Swimming Association level 2 Swimming Instructor.

Ok, the days preceding the impact of Hurricane Irma, he tracked developments in the Atlantic Ocean from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and meteorological services in Puerto Rico, and Antigua and Barbuda.

Disturbances, depressions, waves, troughs, anomalies, and so on and so forth, during the hurricane season, frequently begin off Cape Verde. Cape Verde is an archipelago that sits off the West African Coast.

Irma began like any other disturbance worth monitoring. And like other tropical weather systems, Irma became better organized as it moved towards the Caribbean. Most weather systems that eventually become tropical hurricanes follow a north westerly track.

It soon became clear that Irma could become a problem. On August 30, 2017 Irma began as a tropical wave. The wave swiftly became a category 3 hurricane. Irma’s intensity fluctuated between a category 2 and 3. By September 6 2017, Irma had become a Category 5 with winds reaching up to 295 miles per hour (mph).

On September 6 2017, the eye of category 5 plus Irma struck the British Virgin Islands. Irma was no usual hurricane. Irma was a gigantic tornado that triggered seismic data. The most violent storm in Atlantic history, Irma at its most violent, and as it slammed into paradise, featured winds that exceeded 250mph.

This Islander lives in a reasonably secure dwelling, with a roof built into solid concrete beams. Had that not been so, he may not be sitting here writing this story.

As he huddled in a back room that he deemed fortified with his family, Irma began to pound, trash, and hit his home with utter disregard for life and limb. Irma was an ogre that grabbed his home with both hands and attempted to pull it out of its foundations.

The ogre then began to pull off the roof slowly. The sounds of wood and galvanize being torn off homes nearby by the monster, and the slow destruction of his own home was a terrifying ordeal.

Now this writer is one of those daredevil types. He had to get a feel for the hurricane. So he wandered outside at about 1pm to secure some items on his porch. This was despite the warnings from wife and son that he stay put. But he is, after all, the man of the house. That decision was a major mistake that could have turned tragic.

As he waltzed slow motion on to his front verandah, he may as well have been an astronaut on the moon. Irma’s winds picked up his 250 plus pound frame, and slammed him on to the porch wall.

He dropped to the floor as the winds escalated, and he had to crawl for his life back indoors, amidst debris flying about like bullets and mortar shells in a violent Second World War battle.

The hurricane continued for about 4 hours. When the hurricane was over, he stepped outside to a scene of utter destruction. The lush hills of the Virgin Islands were littered with debris of every type: galvanize, tiles, furniture, clothing, shoes, windows, doors, plywood, overturned cars, and parts of homes.

The destruction on the island of Tortola was total. For days after, the atmosphere was surreal. One can think of the aftermath of a nuclear war to get a complete picture, thankfully without the dead.

Virgin Islands residents wandered about the streets in shock and utter disbelief. The landscape had changed dramatically. This was the TWILIGHT ZONE. Trees were stripped to the bark. More than half of all homes suffered significant damage. Cars and vehicles being driven on the roads were without windshields, and dented by flying debris.

The deaths from the storm included a major sports personality.

However the death count was 4. This was a low death count considering the intensity of Irma.
One thing was certain; life in paradise had changed for good.

To be continued

This story begins a series of narratives on Hurricane Irma that should eventually become a book. Hurricane Irma was the worst disaster to visit the Virgin Islands since the 1800s. Irma was the Virgin Islands 911

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