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Remembrances of My Experience during Hurricane Klaus

Remembrances of My Experience during Hurricane Klaus

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest 

Hurricane Irma’s destructive path across Puerto Rico on Wednesday reminds me of my visit to that island a number of years ago during Hurricane Klaus.

I was doing some freelance travel writing at the time. It didn’t pay much, so you had to hunt around for a newspaper or magazine that would accept your work and maybe even pay you. For the most part, though, travel writing was fun and often educational to boot.

There was one journey, however, that proved to be more of a trek than a trip.

I was invited to join a group of travel writers to visit the British Virgin Islands (BVI) for what was called in the trade a “fam[iliarization] trip.” Tony, the PR man handling the visit, and I had gone to college together, so I had no trouble saying yes. Besides, at the time visiting the Caribbean was on my must-see list.

I was so eager to go – it was November after all – that I even passed up voting in that year’s presidential election. (Reagan beat Mondale in a landslide.)

Our co-ed party consisted of writers from New York, Washington, Pittsburgh and Louisville, Kentucky. We gathered at the American Airlines ticket counter at JFK International Airport in New York. Then, we promptly checked our luggage (no charge in those days) for our flight to San Juan and a connecting flight to Tortola in the BVI.

‘There’s a Hurricane Coming, You Can Sleep on the Beach’

It was only after we checked in our luggage that the ticket agent told us, “You know, there’s a hurricane heading toward Puerto Rico. Your flight is going to leave in any case. You can stay back and rebook later, but your bags won’t be back for about a week or so.”

Then came her Hobbesian choice. She said, “Or you can board the flight, but you should know all the hotels in San Juan are full. You’ll have to sleep on the beach.” Besides TV weather reporters, who would be crazy enough to venture onto a beach in the midst of a hurricane?

So we took a vote. The crazies won. In the end, I caved and made the vote unanimous. We would “storm” the beach!

‘I’m Sorry about That, Folks, I Couldn’t See the Runway’

The flight was remarkably smooth, despite the approaching Hurricane Klaus. As we dipped down and approached the airport in San Juan, sudden streaks of heavy rain appeared on my window as if we were in a midair car wash.

I always enjoy watching houses, cars and roadways grow larger as we slowly descend back to earth. This time, however, we lurched upward suddenly as if shot from a cannon. Almost as quickly, we leveled off again and began a wide turn back to the airport

“I’m sorry about that, folks,” the pilot said over the intercom system in the usual droll, understated voice all pilots use. “I couldn’t see the runway, so we’ll go around and come in again.”

We landed on the second try, and safely too. The non-stop rain pelted the skin of the aircraft and the winds drowned out the usual airport noises of revving engines and taxiing aircraft. A couple of cabs took us into downtown San Juan. Strangely, the streets were crowded with people in a festive mood for some reason, dancing and singing in the rain.

Tony and the BVI rep found us rooms in a small hotel and a restaurant with a better-than-expected menu. After good food and wine (and plenty of it!), plus the promise of sunny weather the next day, we all mellowed out and had a good night’s sleep despite the winds and monsoon-like rains.

True to the BVI rep’s promise, the next morning we all flew over to Tortola, the capital of the BVI. The sun was shining, with not a cloud in the sky, and the warmth of the day was most welcome.

Hurricane Klaus Struck the BVI with Particular Fury

But the chain of small islands had taken a massive hit. Power was out throughout the BVI. Hurricane Klaus took special aim at the many fishing vessels, power boats and luxury yachts that had arrived several days earlier for an international boat show.

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Klaus had tossed vessels small and large onto the beaches, into waterside shopping plazas, and onto roads and docks like toys. Many of the boats were damaged beyond repair. Estimates from their loss alone ran into many millions of dollars.

But we continued on, visiting the various hotels on our itinerary, wherehe owners and chefs did their best to make us feel welcome and put a best face on their properties. Salads and cold seafood became the standard fare throughout the five-day excursion. Our rooms were without air conditioning, of course.

By recent hurricane standards, Klaus was a pussycat. This Category 1 storm reached peak winds of 90 mph. Losses across the storm’s eastern Caribbean path were estimated at $152 million with no reported loss of life. After striking Puerto Rico, Klaus turned northeast and blew itself out in the Atlantic, far from the U.S. mainland.

Now if Irma would only follow Klaus’s example!



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