So it’s 2:19 pm on a Wednesday, it’s a very beautiful day outside with shining sun, no winds, blue skies. And I’m just hours away from connecting up with one of the largest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic, as it passes over Puerto Rico to my east, barreling down on my location. The eye is tracked to pass about 120 miles to my north, just 50 miles off the Northern coast of Hispaniola, sometime around 2pm tomorrow, but of course the effects will be felt long before that. It has already wiped out St Maarten and much of the British Virgin Islands, and the Puerto Ricans are hunkered down for its imminent arrival right on top of San Juan.
Hurricane Irma has grown over the past week through the ranks until it proudly wears the maximum Category 5 label, currently only 5 mph slower than the most fierce storm on record (Hurricane Andrew, who had 190 mph sustained winds). We’ve been watching Irma grow and approach our region over the past week with bated breath, as the predicted track has meandered north and south by small degrees. Small degrees matter….merely moving 30 miles further north or south than its current trajectory would completely change the next 24 hours for us here in Santo Domingo.
So we wait and see.
Earlier today, the teachers had to go into work to prepare our classrooms. We moved all our electric wires off the floor, covered all our technology in plastic bags, secured our windows, lowered our window shades, removed any personal stuff, and put chairs in desks. And all the time children of teachers were playing in the Jungle Gym out the back door, as classes were preemptively canceled today (Weds), Thurs and Friday. And just beside them, workers were bolting plywood over windows and doors.
On the walk home, I could see businesses screwing plywood, construction sites burying scraps of wood in deep ditches, people moving lawn furniture indoors, and masses of humanity crushing into stores for last minute supplies like water, batteries, dried food, and rum.
I could also see the inane: gardeners watering plants, laborers sweeping dust off walkways, city workers picking up plastic bags on median strips, and one lady hanging out laundry.
Preparations for events like this fall under the old adage “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”…and I might add…”expect the expected”. The best case scenario would be if Irma moved just 50 miles north between now and 5AM when we are supposed to start feeling the beginnings of the worst effects. That would lower our predicted winds here in Santo Domingo from 50mph (with 75 mph gusts) to closer to 25mph with 40 mph gusts. Rainfall would reduce from torrential downpour to just a stiff rain, and damages would be limited to branches and trash blowing around. And on Friday, we could start to clean up.
The worse scenario would be if the storm track shifted just 50 miles south. That would pass the eye of the storm right across the Northern edge of the island, wiping out numerous beach communities. Here in Santo Domingo, we’d get 70 mph winds with 100 mph gusts, enough to blow people down the street and break windows. Rainfall would be torrential all day, with massive flooding. Power would probably be knocked out by noon, and be out for a week or more. And people would die.
But the expected effects are for winds in the 30-40 mph range, some torrential downpour but not incessant, probably a day of lost power, and flooding only in the low-lying regions. Fingers crossed. The closer she gets, the more likely that she sticks to her planned track.
So I’m all prepped for the worst….those of you who know me aren’t surprised. I have a month’s worth of bottled water, a week’s worth of canned goods, all my perishables have been eaten up, the seams in the windows where water can blow in have been taped up, all my devices are on charge (iPad, iPhone, two laptops, three backup power supplies), and anything outside has been moved indoors. I have books, movies on my HD, and extra flashlight batteries. I’ve met the neighbors and made agreements to check on each other, loaned out my sheltered parking spot to someone, and even given my brother the passwords to my accounts; you know, just in case.
It’s now 3:01 pm, and the outermost bands of the approaching storm have encroached. The main winds aren’t supposed to arrive for about 11 more hours, but a small drizzle has begun, and grey clouds obscure the sky. I know my taping job has been good because the house is getting stuffy, and my shelffuls of snacks is starting to look interesting. But I need to save them for the next few days.
Now we wait and see.