Facebook posts, Tweets and Instagram photos of Hurricane Sandy ravaging the Eastern Seaboard are all pouring into our news streams today. Many of us haven’t been able to tear our eyes away from it, sending our love and well wishes to everyone who is facing the storms tonight and hoping they are safe and that life resumes to normal as soon as possible.
For some reason, this hurricane – more than any other – reminds me of my own hurricane experience in September 1989. I spent the first 8 years of my live living aboard a sailboat on my parents’ round-the-world trip. There were many adventures had along the way, but this in particular has been burned into my mind’s eye forever.
In 1989, just days before my birthday, we experienced the wrath of Hurricane Hugo – a Category 5 hurricane that reached wind gusts of 350 kilometers per hour. The storm passed right over us in Culebra, Puerto Rico, where we had decided to wait out Hugo in a “hurricane hole”. Thanks to a random meeting with old yacht friends, we were able to find the last spot in the protected mangrove foliage.
I can still smell pungent stench of sea water and hear the wind howling like a jet engine. My mom sat below deck for part of it; her hands white knuckled. She was absolutely terrified, but trying to put on a brave face.
We could barely hear the muffled shouts from our dad, who was out on deck most of the night, as he told us all to put our life jackets on.
My brother and I (4 and 7 years old) didn’t quite grasp the severity of the situation and misinterpreted the excitement as something fun.
The photo below was taken during the eye of the storm when things had calmed down a little bit and Sam and I were able to poke our heads above deck. We’re smiling in this picture, but I can assure you, my dad’s grin is more from the delirium of being up all night trying to keep our boat safe.
After about 12 hours of extreme conditions, the hurricane passed on its way to the mainland and we were able to emerge from our boat Chucklyn to survey the damage. It was devastating. All in all, there were 34 lives lost in the Caribbean, 100,000 people left homeless and $10 billion in damages, which makes it the most devastating hurricane of its time.
Guests in a foreign land, we did our best to help out where we could, but the hurricane crippled many small businesses for months after. We also had to help salvage many sailboats – some of them belonged to close friends of my parents.
We were incredibly lucky that the same fate did not fall upon our own boat.
Tonight, I think about everyone who is affected by Hurricane Sandy and hope they are safe. It looks like the damage is quite severe. If there’s anything we learned from our experience, it’s that the storm will pass and brighter times are ahead.