Hurricanes hit home for LU students

Cory Robertson

While many Lawrentians enjoyed a placid or even boring end to summer vacation, those in Jamaica and Florida found themselves under the threat of natural disaster. Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 hurricane on a 1-5 scale, hit Florida in mid-August and was followed by the slightly milder Hurricanes Frances and Ivan in early September. When Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica, however, it rose to Category 5, earning the well-deserved nickname “Ivan the Terrible.” Both Jamaica and Florida will undergo extensive restoration efforts in an attempt to recover from the devastation of this summer’s hurricanes.

Sophomore Megan Allen arrived in Miami to visit a fellow Lawrentian the day before Frances hit. Houses were already boarded up, she said, and everyone was panicking because news reports predicted the hurricane would be deadly. Although the hurricane did not hit as hard as expected, power outages and shortages of gasoline and water were prevalent. Not surprisingly, Allen’s visit was not quite what she had been planning. “We sat around in [junior George Barrios’] apartment with his family and tried to keep ourselves sane.”

Junior Jeff Lindholm’s experience with Hurricane Frances was dramatic, though not life-threatening. At his house in Fort Myers, Fla., Lindholm reported that “when the wind ripped across the walls, it sounded like our house was sticking its head out of a fast-moving car.” In his backyard, trees snapped and blew over and shingles were torn off the roof. In other areas, Lindholm said, “smaller mobile homes disintegrated under Charley’s wrath.” Hurricane-related casualties, however, were relatively light.

Juniors Dominique Ritch and Jonathan Swire of Kingston, Jamaica were well aware of the national as well as personal effects of Hurricane Ivan. After Ivan hit Grenada and Haiti, Jamaicans began stockpiling food, batteries, and other hurricane shelter supplies. Supermarkets sold out, Ritch said, and there were long lines everywhere.

Swire and his family ate non-perishable goods such as sardines and mackerel when the electricity went out and water was not available everywhere. Swire said that when electricity was restored and his family was finally able to watch the news on television, they were amazed at the images they saw, such as an entire half of a house that had fallen down.

Luckily, the eye of the hurricane never hit Kingston, although the area was still hit at the Category 3 level. Ritch said the garage port on his house and a couple of trees were taken down by the hurricane, but much graver results were experienced elsewhere, including loss of life and total destruction of homes. Near the southernmost tip of the island houses were flattened to the ground.

Ivan hit Jamaica just before fall term began here at Lawrence, so Swire and Ritch were fortunate their travel plans worked out. The airport, however, was backed up for four days, Swire said. Many passengers were still waiting who had been scheduled for departure in previous days. Swire met one woman based in New York and Florida who, after extensive delays, was willing to board almost any plane, regardless of destination.

Although Swire and Ritch stress that the hurricane could have been much worse, they are highly aware of the setbacks it will cause their country. Swire points out that while Florida was also impacted by the hurricanes, it is one state in a large country and thus possesses a vast network of support. Jamaica, on the other hand, is truly an island unto itself; it is a small country that has only its own resources to rely upon.

The exchange rate between the U.S. and Jamaica will drop significantly, making Lawrence tuition harder for Jamaican students to pay. “It’s going to be much more difficult to keep us here,” said Swire. Not to mention the effects on Jamaica itself – businesses will suffer and foreign investment will be lost because of the monetary strain of reconstruction. As Ritch said, at this point “(people) are not concerned with wants, but with needs.”

This particular state of events is detrimental to Jamaica. As Swire pointed out, Jamaica’s two key industries are tourism and agriculture. With the government orders for all U.S. national citizens to leave the country and no one to enter, and the amount of crops lost in the hurricane, it is obvious that both industries will suffer.

Swire and Ritch, however, appreciate the level of recovery their country has been able to accomplish. “We’re just keeping faith,” Swire said. “Just hoping nothing else happens.