ON Sunday, September 11, 1988 my two brothers and I were out 'carousing' when the news came to us that a hurricane would hit the next day.
The news was received with more curiosity than fear, as none of us had ever seen a hurricane and had no idea of its destructive power. Sure, a few of us had heard 'oldsters' talking in rare moments about HHrricane Charlie of 1951, but we never paid much attention anyway.
We bought a few items at the supermarket which was nothing near in quantity to what was actually needed. We bought the goods almost mechanically and because many were on the same mission. To us, preparation meant going home, securing the safety of the wife and kids and waiting on the storm's arrival. Matters like home insurance, though in place, was not seen as a top priority simply because our idea of what a storm could do was far divorced from the reality of its devastating force.
With the wife and kids secure at their grandparents (under slab roofs) I left my home and decided that I would sit out the storm at my brother's house in Golden Acres in Forest Hills.
A little after midday on September 12 the breeze began kicking up, but to me who had my binoculars peering down at the city below I simply wanted to see what a hurricane was about. I was at an open door to the front of the house and was actually enjoying the hurricane when the first burst of reality came upon me.
A neighbour who lived further up the hill telephoned by brother. She was frantic. 'Mr Wignall, Mr Wignall, my car is in the driveway, but the breeze is moving it!' Her driveway overlooked a steep drop, but luckily for her the front wheels came to rest against a one-block height embankment.
Unknown to us, not yet fully schooled in the way of killer hurricanes, or indeed any hurricane, Gilbert was on its way to cut a neat if nasty and destructive east/west path across Jamaica with its terrible eye-wall, always firmly on the backbone of the island. It entered at about a category two, increased to three, and as it left the western end of the island and met up with warmer waters it increased its intensity to category five and roared its way to the west.
Through my binoculars I could see that the authorities were working tirelessly throughout. There were many vehicles with flashing lights, indicative of the state machinery picking up those who needed evacuation.
All too soon for my liking, the first 'blow' ended. A neighbour across the street, who lived in a four level mansion, shouted to us and invited us over for a drink. As my brother and I walked across and down the narrow roadway I was looking at my watch and constantly keeping my brother up to date on the time we had left before the eye introduced us to the next eye-wall.
Again, unknown to us, the north eastern eye-wall was not just packing a punch, it was carrying arms and ammunition. While we were at the neighbour's house, I was drinking Johnny Walker Black and we were all in good spirits and talking about everything that was unimportant.
We were at a level in the house where the neighbour had his bar, a dining/dance area and a bedroom, all in a kind of 'pillbox' construction. One sensed that the entertainment area was somewhat 'cordoned-off' from the rest of the huge house.
The neighbour kept fierce-looking German Shepherds and hefty Rotweillers. He had decided to let them out of the cage as it had suffered some damage in the first part of the storm. I had my binoculars trained on the horizon, which showed a thick, black curtain slowly lifting.
"Barry, I think it is time to go back up to the house," I said to my brother. As we said our goodbyes, a fearful, shrill and almost unbearable whistle came seemingly out of nowhere. A huge wooden door needed to be locked as the breeze blew with an intensity that we never imagined possible.
Three of us, including the neighbour's gardener were trying to force the door to where it could be latched, but we were no match for the brutal winds. 'Listen,' I shouted in their ears. 'After the count of three we let go and head to the bar area. I began counting, 'One, two...' At two, someone pulled himself away and...
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