Hurricane season is upon us here in the Caribbean and this was never more evident than when Hurricane Earl made its recent pass a couple hundred miles to the south of the Cayman Islands.
Perhaps with Ivan in the back of their minds, locals made mad dashes to the local grocery stores, gas stations and banking institutions. Hoarding bottled water, non-perishable food items (I could not find my favorite granola bars for the life of me!) and handfuls of cash (Those bank queues!) – it is safe to say that citizens slightly overreacted. While Earl (still a tropical depression at the time) made a pass on its way towards Belize and the Yucatan, Cayman was hit with little more than blustery conditions, slightly higher seas and about 10 minutes of above average rainfall.
Having lived in Cayman since 1982 I have seen two major hurricanes and several weaker ones in my time “pon di rock”. Starting with Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and Ivan in 2004, I have seen my fair share of “pending storm behavior”. In both instances when named hurricanes actually hit us, I can say without much doubt that the building up to the storm is much more scary than the actual storm. The anticipation of what will be weighs heavy on the mind. Following closely to the anticipation is after the storm when we have had to live with no electricity, water or any modern everyday comforts that everyone takes for granted.
During Gilbert my husband and I had a 6 year old in town and we were living in Cayman Kai. Getting ready for our “first” hurricane was a daunting experience.While we were ready to weather the storm, we had lots of snowbird friends who were all off the island that were not.So after assuring that our own home was ready we found ourselves running around making sure everyone else’s house was ready as well. One of our friends was an architect and built his house like a bunker, so we decided it best to move into his house for the arrival of the storm. Right after we got all set up the fire department came by and told us we had to go to a better shelter and could not stay in the house so we packed up all of our earthly possessions once again and settled in with some friends who lived on higher ground.
Once the storm passed we were struck with more bad luck. Of all the times for this to happen, our beloved Ford Ranger refused to go forward and would only operate in reverse gear. So here we are driving up and down the streets in reverse trying to ensure that our home had not blown out to sea. Needless to say this is not the picture of paradise we had envisioned when we moved to the tropics! Luckily, though, the storm only ripped off screens and destroyed some vegetation and our home had zero water damage.
Hurricane Ivan was a different story altogether. This is the storm that we Caymanians measure all other storms by. Our son was off the island (lucky for him)but now we had 2 dogs and 1 cat in tow. Many people left the island as Ivan approached but we were stranded as we did not want to abandon our “fur babies”. So once again we prepared for a major hurricane. Ivan caused a great deal of damage. Our actual home, by the grace of God, only sustained minimal roof damage above the garage this time but others were not so lucky and many lost everything.As before with Gilbert, life after the storm was the difficult part. We had no electricity or water for several weeks. Our swimming pool became our bathtub as well as providing us with a method of flushing toilets by drawing water up with a bucket and pouring it in the bowl. Believe you me, this was a luxury most people did not have and we thanked our lucky stars to be able to do so…
These hurricane experiences provided us with invaluable life lessons pertaining to real estate. First off, do NOT allow yourself to be under insured. We found the insurance companies were fair as long as you had updated your policy at the current appraised value. If you had purchased your property years before and never increased it you were in for a quite a shock. We also learned what best survives in a major hurricane with respect to building materials. For example, metal roofs withstood the brunt of the storm much better that other material options. Installing a metal roof on your home or condo will make it more apt to sell quickly when the time comes as astute buyers are looking for this in this region. Hurricane windows were thought of as a luxury back then but they are now required for all new construction and many people have replaced old windows with hurricane windows after seeing what Ivan and Gilbert were capable of. Once again, it is an invaluable investment that will increase the value of your property in the long run. Hurricanes are one of Mother Nature’s most awesome displays of power and destruction. The overarching theme here is that calm levelheaded preparedness prevails and taking steps ahead of time makes all the difference. Last but not least, make sure you stock up on your favorite granola bars well in advance and check your car’s transmission fluid.
John has been working as an agent with ERA Cayman Islands for 8+ years specialising in high-end real estate, hospitality and property management. Formerly of Vail, Colorado; John has set down his roots in Grand Cayman. John holds a degree in business law from the University of Saint Thomas.