I had my blog post for tomorrow half-written; I’ve been taking photos and preparing it all week but then Matthew came into the equation. How could I write about the tranquility of our autumn in France when lives have already been lost and people are suffering so greatly from the devastation caused by a hurricane churning it’s way slowly northwards through the Caribbean and into the Bahamas? The answer – I couldn’t – we have many friends in the islands and many in Florida, and although we may not be there we’re thinking of you all a lot right now.
At the end of the 1990’s we lived for a short time in the Caribbean; Izzi was just a toddler when we were visited by Louis, a category 4 hurricane. I remember the utter calm before the storm; all was silent and there was not a breath of wind; all that could be heard for miles around was the sound of hammers, furiously banging in nails to secure plywood over windows. Roddy was racing between our home and the little harbour, helping a friend called Mikey at his very local beach-bar to secure his property as best as anyone can, but we knew everything in the bay would take an enormous battering. We had taken our boat to the neighbouring island of St Martin a few days previously where it was to ride out the weather on the ‘hard’ at a supposedly safe marina. Our rented house had a tin roof and so we decamped to stay with friends who had a daughter the same age as Izzi. They were also temporary residents but their rented accommodation had a concrete roof and would be far safer. We put all our furniture in the centre of the house in a huge pile under a dozen tarpaulins and drove away hoping for the best. Sally, I know you remember this just as well as I do.
Roddy, Izzi and I shared a king-sized bed, and we were awoken during the night as the makeshift plywood shutters started to slam against the windows with great violence and intensity. We did our best to keep the toddlers entertained in the fierce heat with no electricity. Eventually Louis moved on, but the island had been completely devastated; our favourite beachside restaurants had been obliterated in the eye of the storm. Poor St Martin across the water had fared even worse.
In 2009 we were again visited by a hurricane in France. Klaus made landfall near Bordeaux, with winds averaging 120mph. Again the night before was eerily quiet, but this time no one knew what was coming and no one was prepared. We were awoken by all the children (by now there were five of them!) as they came running into our bedroom at dawn, excitedly shrieking that the power had gone out. As Roddy and I came fully awake we realised the windows were rattling, shutters were banging on their hooks and there was the sound of breaking branches from the garden. We had no idea what was truly happening and no idea of what was to come. Structurally, we lost eight trees and a few roof tiles but nothing more. However we also had no power for eight days and no water for the first two of those. We had no heating without electricity apart from the open fire, so we all slept together, seven of us in one room for warmth. For days and weeks afterwards the sound of chainsaws could be heard through the south of France as people started to clear up their gardens. The storm barrelled on down alongside the Pyrenees and eastwards across southern France causing mass destruction in its path.
As we watch from afar, Matthew creeping forward, we pray for the safety of everyone in the islands and all the way up the eastern coast of the USA. xxx