After Irma: Guyanese in Tortola picking up the pieces

He stood for what seemed like hours, but may have just been a few minutes, tightly holding the glass doors to his home together as the wind roared outside. But when the glass began to crack, he scampered into the bedroom and did the same with the bedroom door to protect his wife and young daughters.

As he and his wife fought with the wind for the bedroom door, their daughters, amazingly, slept through it all. But Andre Adams knew it was all over when he peeped outside and saw that the roof had gone and with it almost every piece of furniture in their home.

That is the frightening recollection Adams, a Guyanese, has of Hurricane Irma which wreaked havoc in Tortola, British Virgin Islands on September 6, but he is still grateful that his life and the lives of his family members were spared. The family, like so many throughout the Caribbean islands that were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria, is now in the process of rebuilding having lost all worldly possessions but a resilient Adams said it is a process that can be accomplished, pointing out that the family is safe even though temporarily separated.

Adams was forced to send his wife and children to the US as the cleaning-up exercise continues and as he attempts to make their home habitable again.

This photograph depicts the shattered patio glass doors of Andre Adams’ home as a result of Hurricane Irma.

“Post Irma and we went outside to see the damage and it was nothing like I had ever seen in my life. The place looked like a post-apocalyptic scene. I went to check my car and the back windscreen and the side windows were shattered, there was glass everywhere. I took a further look down the hill and could not see a single leaf still hanging on any tree, cars upside down scattered all down the hills where there were no roads, electrical posts downed, wires scattered and blocking the road. You name it, it was out of place, roofs all over…” Adams, who has made Tortola his home recalled to the Sunday Stabroek.

He shared that the family lived at the top of a three-storey apartment building and was warned to take all precautions for the impending hurricane. But nothing prepared him for what was to come and even as the wind picked up on the evening of September 5, he made two windmills and played with his five and one-year-old daughters on their patio.

On September 6 the island was placed on curfew and Adams remembered that his wife had seasoned some butterfish with the hope of preparing it during the expected power outage. By 11.45 on September 6, the wind was roaring and Adams recalled that the glass doors “to the patio started to shake like I have never seen it before.”

Guyanese Andre Adams plays with his two daughters, hours after Hurricane Irma blew off their apartment’s roof (as is evident in this photo).

It was that point that he attempted to hold the doors together and as he struggled he looked up and saw the ceiling shaking and the “roof going in and out” and at that same time the glass door began to crack. He pushed the couch and the dining table against the glass door and piled chairs and the carpet on top with the hope of keeping it in check and then he scampered into the bedroom with his family.

But as soon as he entered the room the glass door shattered and the barricade was blown away “like a piece of paper”. He attempted to keep the bedroom door closed but revealed that he could not keep it shut for more than a second at a time so it slammed like the “ticking of a clock but instead of tick tock it was the loud and terrifying sounds of bang, bang, bang, bang.

“I peeped out to see what was going on outside and it was like a tornado in my house, every piece of furniture and kitchenware caught up in some form of vortex spinning all over,” the young accountant shared.

He called on his wife to put down their still sleeping toddler and join him at the bedroom door, the moment re realized it was either “life or death” when he peeped outside and “saw that the roof was gone.”

A Christian, Adams said he started to recite bible verses as he called upon his heavenly father for protection even as water started to seep under the bedroom door; he and his wife by this time were slipping around on the wet tile still attempting to keep the bedroom door closed as tears flowed down their faces.

Luckily, there was what he believes was a 15-minute respite in the hurricane and their neighbours from below came up and assisted them down to more secure accommodation.

“On our way down, we looked around at all the beautiful things we had acquired during the years all gone in a flash. However, we exited with the most precious gift of all, and that’s our lives and our safety surely not replaceable,” the father of two said.

The winds picked up again and according to Adams, Hurricane Irma made her “final assault” but this time while their neighbour’s doors were gone the bathroom area was safe and they remained there until it passed.

‘Lost everything’

When Adams returned to his apartment he began to rummage through what was left by the hurricane and realized that his wallet with all of his identification cards, credit cards and a few hundred dollars was blown away.

But the grateful father said in the midst of it all his daughters wanted to play so he cleaned out the dining and sitting areas, with bleach and took a break just to play with them and it helped them to cope with the destruction left behind by Hurricane Irma.

Following the disaster, there were massive food and water shortages on the island coupled with no electricity and persons were attempting to evacuate, but the airport was closed to commercial flights, even though flights were being arranged by companies evacuating their employees and some Caribbean nations evacuating their citizens. They heard that the US was evacuating its citizens and since their daughters are US citizens, Adams said, they rushed to the area and were grateful that even though he and wife are Guyanese the authorities were willing to evacuate the entire family to Puerto Rico from where they would have had to take a commercial flight.

Adams did not leave with his family as he wanted to remain and salvage whatever he could and find out if he was still employed.

His family made it safely to the US. Adams is still in Tortola as the island struggles without electricity and water. He gets by with rain water and he has purchased drinking water from the supermarket.

The accounting firm he works with awaits the return of potable water and electricity but since most of the clients are locals it is expected that business would be slow initially. His wife is employed with the government as a teacher so her job is secured and it is hoped that school will be re-opened by the first week in November in temporary buildings since the school buildings are severely damaged.

“I am working with my landlord to make sure we have a roof over our heads when my family returns and we are trying to acquire a generator,” Adams said.

He said it is hoped that they would have potable water by the time his family returns.

“I am expecting greater things and more blessings and I am very thankful for the daily bread God has been providing,” Adams said, adding jokingly, “Oh I forgot we never did get to eat that butterfish in time.”

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