It’s Saturday noon on Saba. It’s quiet. Very quiet. Not a breath of wind. No rustling of leaves, not even in Windwardside. Few people are out and about. This is in stark contrast with the past week, in which people were either frantically preparing for the coming of hurricane Irma, or anxiously cleaning up after she left and before the coming of hurricane Jose. Both major hurricanes, Irma a category 5, Jose a category 4, here within a week of each other.
Saba was well prepared for Irma. All over the island sounds of hammering, sawing and trucks could be heard. Houses were boarded up, building materials properly stored, food and water stocked. The government disaster team kept us updated twice, sometimes three times daily of all island services such as garbage pick-ups, power, communication, curfews and shelters. People were given off work to help prepare. I have never seen the island grapevine work so efficiently and with such might. The only talk on the street was Irma or Irma-related and the atmosphere was tense to say the least. All those on Saba were nervous and afraid, also for other islands. Irma was looking to head straight for us and she was a monster.
By 6 p.m. on Tuesday everybody except those who had a responsibility for the island, had been boxed in their houses. Those who didn’t trust their house or were alone stayed with friends or family. The electricity was planned to go off at 12 o’clock that night for the safety of their employees. Our internet provider, Satel, had opened up an island-wide Wi-Fi network so everybody could let people overseas know how we were doing at least for as long as the internet would hold out. Saba was as well prepared as she could be.
Irma arrived on Saba around 6 a.m. on Wednesday. I think everybody tried to catch some sleep that night, but from what I’ve heard only children managed to get some shuteye. Irma was shrieking like a banshee, banging on shutters, tearing at anything she could get a grip on in a mad frenzy. Debris was flying over our roof. And she was scheduled to only get worse. She really started pummelling the island between 7 and 8. The internet finally gave out all over the island and we were all in the dark literally and metaphorically, forced to listen to Irma howling outside. Some Sabans were hanging on their doors for hours to keep Irma out. Some people had to sit out her ferocity under a mattress in their bathroom, winds, debris and rain coming down on those whose roofs she took.
Irma left Saba behind on Wednesday. Upon opening the door, a beaten, but not defeated Saba greeted us. Her hide had been torn; there were hardly any leaves left on most trees. Those leaves still attached were scorched. Scorched. By the wind. Most houses thankfully were left standing. People were coming out of their homes, exchanging experiences, checking on friends and family and scrutinizing Saba’s assaulted surface. We learnt how lucky we were compared to our neighbouring islands. There were no fatalities. Saba was laid bare and left vulnerable, but her spirit was strong as ever.
Remember that grapevine? The governor and the crisis team met and every decision was communicated via whatever lines were available to Saba’s residents. That grapevine was still working furiously. Within 8 hours most areas on the island had power again. Within 24 hours everybody had land lines restored and internet was running again. Unfortunately whatever work had to be done, had to be done in a hurry to prepare for Jose who had announced his coming on Saturday.
Saba took a ragged breath, flexed those muscles, straightened her crown and got to work. We were inspecting damage, clearing debris, fixing roofs, and the sounds of hammering, sawing and trucking returned, this time with a fever. Dutch marines, public works, truck drivers, contractors, teachers, tourists, anybody who could lift a finger helped out. Wounds were patched, sores were bandaged. Everybody was helping Saba care for her injuries. Never in my life have I seen such productivity and perseverance. Never in my life have I felt prouder to be a member of a community.
Suffice to say that Saturday afternoon, in utter silence, Jose, a category 4 hurricane, took pity on Saba and our sister Sint-Maarten/Saint-Martin and bypassed us quietly. The Unspoilt Queen can breathe again. For now. Here and on sister islands, there is still a lot of work to be done.