The Spice Isle: Grenada moves on past Hurricane Ivan

I didn’t know a lot about Grenada before visiting recently, but one name was familiar to me: Ivan — the hurricane that came through with force in 2004. So once I got there, I wanted to find out two things: what’s it like during a hurricane? And how does the country look now, five years later?

You first have to realize — the hurricane was a fluke. The reason some residents were actually excited to see a hurricane in person was because hurricanes come so infrequently and Ivan would be their first. (The previous one was Janet in 1955.) Located 12 degrees above the equator, in the southeast part of the Caribbean, Grenada sits outside the hurricane belt.

By all accounts from the stories I heard, “Ivan the Terrible” was a rager. News had been as moody and unreliable as the hurricane itself – first saying that it was coming, then saying it wasn’t – before Ivan struck soon after. Winds blew 130 mph strong, making it a category 3 storm, as it made its way to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Florida. 28 people in Grenada were killed, 18,000 people were homeless, and 90% of the buildings were damaged and 30% were destroyed.

All important things to realize. But even more, from what I’ve seen and heard, Grenada should be known for overcoming these things as much as enduring them.
The people have proved themselves to be resilient. During the storm, many held tight in their own homes, and others took refuge in shelters like churches, all while roofs were being torn off and water was coming in. With 90% of the buildings damaged and 30% destroyed, the people pulled together — cohabitating in the homes that were intact, and helping to re-build together the ones that weren’t. A man who was lucky enough to not have to repair his roof told me “everybody had to do SOME construction.”

One quote on a wall near the northern town of Sauteurs caught my eye: “God has not promised to keep us from life’s storms, but he has promised to keep us through them.” It’s hard to believe, but these folks had a repeat performance soon after. Hurricane Emily came through in July 2005 — a mere 10 months after Ivan.

No one’s going to say that the hurricane was a blessing, considering all of the damage, but it’s because of that damage that building codes have improved. Schools – which had been in need of rebuilding – have also been improved. The tourism industry was rebuilt (often better than before, like the amazing Spice Island Resort on Grand Anse Beach) — though I’m happy to hear that nothing can be built higher than 3 stories. A new National Stadium, home to cricket and soccer matches, was built to replace the destroyed one.

Only a few repairs will have to take longer, even after five years. The 128-year-old Church of the Immaculate Conception is still roofless, while the congregation continues to raise funds for construction.

I’ve been told that NADMA (National Disaster Management Agency) became better trained and equipped with proactive education and response systems.

The land itself has gotten to work repairing itself — although it takes more time than anything else. From my untrained eye, I was struck by the thick vegetation — fronds and branches, growing from all of the indentations and slopes of the country’s inland mountainscape. But I was told that for all of the places that I saw green, it was equally as gray after the hurricane — where winds stripped trees and shrubs down to the bark itself. Because the hurricane wiped out most of the country’s nutmeg livelihood, more wind-resistant nutmeg trees were planted.

These folks may now be well prepared for another hurricane, but let’s hope they’re not put to the test again anytime soon.

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.