Looking Back and Looking Forward – Hurricane Irma One Year On

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When Hurricane Irma hit a year ago today, my world was in quite a different place than the people that stood in its path. On the morning of September 6th, while Irma was ravaging the islands of the Caribbean, we were nestled safely in the US Midwest, closing on our new house, celebrating with lunch at one of our favorite restaurants and trying to decide what we were going to do for my birthday the next day. Even in the midst of all the good that was going on around us, I couldn’t get the people of those islands out of my mind.

There were many memorable moments for us that day but the one moment that sticks out the most is of me standing in the kitchen of our new house, frantically searching through social media on my phone for any updates I could find. We had multiple friends in the affected islands (particularly Anguilla) that I was concerned about along with businesses and beach bars across the many islands. We had just been in the region nine months earlier (the US Virgin Islands) and to think that those islands were being ravaged not just by a hurricane but by a historical hurricane broke my heart. Their safety and condition was all I could think about.

On that day and for many after, I set about providing as many updates on social media that I could, carefully trying to confirm that all of the news was legitimate. The islands had been devastated and all I could do at that point was provide as much information as possible.

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You see, this community of beach bar bums holds the Caribbean near and dear to its heart. Without those islands, this blog wouldn’t exist. That’s why the people who read my blog and follow me on social media were paying attention. They weren’t just people who loved rum – they were kindhearted souls who loved the people that served them their rum, that shared their rum with them, that took them to the rum dispensing shops and gave them a place to lay their head after too much rum. They wanted to know what was going on not just because it was a natural catastrophe – they wanted to know because they cared.

My first thought at the time was how I could get down to the Caribbean to help. I had friends I could stay with but would they really be in the position to host me? How soon would flights resume? Once I realized that wasn’t a possibility, I continued to provide updates as I could and I wrote – some of it good, most of it readable enough to get the information out.

At first, all of the updates were about the devastation – resorts destroyed, beach bars blown away and whole islands evacuated. There were personal updates as well. I vividly remember watching a video of Garvey Lake, the owner of Anguilla’s Sunshine Shack, sifting through the remains of his beach bar and holding what was left of it in his hands as it had literally been blown off the face of the earth. To see Garvey in such a state was shocking. Nothing bows him but he looked beaten.

Then I started noticing a change in my updates. It started to be less about Irma and more about recovery. Despair turned to hope and as sure as the people who call them home, the islands started to bounce back. Debris was cleared, reconstruction began and Garvey rebuilt his beloved shack, complete with the smile we’ve all grown to love.

The islands affected by Irma continue to recover to this day, some further along but all somewhere down the path of recovery, a long way from where they stood a year ago. If I’ve learned anything since then, it’s this – the islands of the Caribbean are beautiful but it’s the people who make them special. Your resilience, your heart, your fortitude and your pride are all evidence of a community raised right – a community all of us beach bar bums have fallen in love with. To all of you from all of us – Cheers!

Author: Tom W.

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