July 1st instead of celebrating Canada Day, we hunkered down and waited for Hurricane Beryl.  Due to the warming Caribbean waters, it became the earliest Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on record.  Beryl is a story of catastrophe and the communities that gathered in the aftermath.

There is a saying, God is a Bajan.  They say this because hurricanes generally travel north of Barbados, avoiding landfall. Beryl approached Barbados from the south.  If it had suddenly decided to go north, it would have devastated the island.  Instead, it squeaked between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, and went on to destroy the Grenadine Islands.

There is a deep sense of community and brethren in the Caribbean.   Catamarans that would normally provide luxury cruises in Barbados, coordinated a relief effort.  We went through our closets, emptied our pantries and contributed the water that we had bought in anticipation of the hurricane.  There were more goods donated than boats to make the trip.

Barbados did not go untouched.  Beryl passed far enough south of us that we were spared the hurricane force winds, but a huge storm swell was created.  Fishing boats that had been gathered in a protected harbor in Bridgetown became sitting ducks.  As the swell came over the break wall, it smashed the boats into each other as the fisher folk watched their livelihood disintegrate.  Some of these boats were insured, many were not.  In a response, the Government has set aside funds to rebuild the port and help the fisher folk who are suddenly without means to feed their family.

Everyone was watching the wind forecast and not paying attention to the swell.  There were waves on the South coast that drove shipping containers off the beach and landed them across the road.  In Carlisle Bay, where we would normally snorkel in the calm waters over the wrecks, adventurous souls were surfing overhead waves.

Drill Hall, our beloved beach where we surf, was flooded and the parking lot remains a swamp.  The surf community came together on the weekend for a beach cleanup.  We piled loose coral that had been torn from the reef and swept onto the beach and dug out palms that had been strewn and buried in the sand.  Every few feet were these little round plastic-like balls, which I later realized were turtle eggs snatched from the recently hatched nests. It is sad to see a place of such beauty devastated.  At the same time, it brings me hope in humanity when people gather to revitalize that beauty.

That evening, we had a girls’ night.  A time to bond and talk about our anxious week. Sarah came for a big glass of wine, after being recalled from her vacation to the States back to her job in disaster response with the World Food Program.  There is a deep sense of calm that comes from community and knowing that you are not alone.  We are stronger when we are vulnerable and turn to one another.

Girls' night

I am Canadian and I know what to do in a snowstorm.  Although I was here for Elsa in 2021, I was quite anxious about the forecasts and the impact of Beryl.  Nick is Bajan and grew up with tropical storms and tracking hurricanes.  He told me, “Don’t worry Sheri, I will take care of you”.  This man takes responsibility very seriously.  The night of Beryl, every time I woke up Nick was checking the latest hurricane reports.  So, I curled up to him and literally slept through the storm that raged outside.

My thoughts are with the people of Carriacou and Union islands, and the fisher folk of Barbados.  Many thanks to the Caribbean community that continues to help them recover from this natural disaster.  And to my community, who kept me safe and sane in the face of catastrophe.  #gratitude