Storm season leaves Spice Island in ruins

Click to follow
The Independent US

It was known worldwide as the "Spice Island" - a garden of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and tourist-friendly wild monkeys - but also as a sailors' safe haven during the Caribbean hurricane season. Its capital, St George's, was often compared to the Italian resort of Portofino. All that changed on 7 September, when a big storm called Ivan hit the Caribbean below the belt and slammed into the unsuspecting island of Grenada.

It was known worldwide as the "Spice Island" - a garden of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and tourist-friendly wild monkeys - but also as a sailors' safe haven during the Caribbean hurricane season. Its capital, St George's, was often compared to the Italian resort of Portofino. All that changed on 7 September, when a big storm called Ivan hit the Caribbean below the belt and slammed into the unsuspecting island of Grenada.

Downed electricity cables and the collapse of the island's phone network meant the world learnt late of Grenada's fate. Then, just as we did hear the news, Ivan diverted our attention by moving on to the media-saturated US states of Florida and Alabama. Next came Hurricane Jeanne, hammering Haiti and other Caribbean shorelines.

The 100,000 inhabitants of the Spice Island, including the 39 victims of Ivan, were forgotten once more. They remain forgotten still, despite thousands of islanders being homeless weeks later, most of the nation's crops destroyed and, in the words of the Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, its economy "shot to pieces". Many Grenadians will be praying this morning for the 39 islanders who failed to reach cover and perished when the hurricane's 130mph winds hit. The island has declared it a "Day of National Prayer and Gratitude." For most, that's gratitude for being alive and having at least a piece of blue plastic tarpaulin over their heads. They won't be praying in the churches, though. Most of those were destroyed. Many will be praying in the schools that have since become their homes. The "lucky ones" will pray in their own homes, some of them beneath those blue plastic tarpaulins distributed by the Red Cross.

Mr Mitchell considers himself one of the lucky ones. His part-stone, part-wood home, in the Sansouci district of St George's, was demolished by Ivan, but that was his "official residence". His own home survived, battered but habitable. But more than 90 per cent of homes were destroyed or badly damaged.Mr Mitchell says the island suffered close to $1bn (£550m) in damages and will need more than $2bn to get back to normal. Needless to say, he was delighted to hear visiting former US president Jimmy Carter call last week for a debt moratorium.

Many Grenadians were not quite so happy with other Americans, notably George Bush. It took his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, almost a month to visit and offer reasonable aid. That was in sharp contrast to the speed with which another US president, Ronald Reagan, "came to the island's aid" 21 years ago tomorrow. Reagan believed Grenada was about to become "another Cuba". He sent in 6,000 Marines and was no doubt relieved that "only" 19 of them did not come home alive. Some 70 others, mostly Grenadians but including Cubans, died in a conflict that was over by Christmas the same year.

Grenada traditionally relied on spices, mostly nutmeg and tourism to survive. So vital was the spice to Grenada that it features on the national flag. Now, up to 80 per cent of the nutmeg trees lie bare. It will take up to a decade for new trees to produce. As for tourism, most hotels were destroyed or badly damaged. The only tourists are the long-term version, including many Britons, who travelled to the island every winter and returned after Ivan with tools in their hands to help with the reconstruction.

Since Hurricane Janet killed more than 100 Grenadians in 1955, the island felt it had become immune to the hurricanes that ravaged its neighbours farther north. "God is a Grenadian" is almost a local proverb. International yachtsmen used to cause traffic jams in St George's harbour when hurricanes thundered in from the Atlantic. The harbour was considered among the safest in the Caribbean. But Hurricane Ivan had its eye, literally, on the Spice Island.

Some of the schools with roofs reopened last week. The government last night narrowed the curfew - imposed after initial looting - to midnight-5am instead of 9pm-dawn. Locals filtered out for the first time to have a drink, even a meal in the few restaurants that reopened.

Meanwhile, the fate of the country's wild monkeys remains unknown. They were nowhere to be seen after Ivan laid bare the island's Grand Etang National Park. Nor was there any news last night of the popular singer Dr Good Size, so-named because of his bulk. A Bahamian whose home in Grenada was destroyed by Ivan, his The Pineapple Song (Turn Around and Let Me See) was this year's sensation around the Caribbean, becoming an anthem at cricket matches, but he has not been seen since the hurricane. The song was released in the UK last week.

Comments