Living Hurricane Joaquin Solo - A Newbie Perspective by Emma McGrath

Initially written during the Hurricane, this should be titled: My Love & I in our first hurricane

I should preamble this to say that “my love” in this instance is a 2 storey, beautiful, gorgeous stunning home – “The White House”. She is everything I could ever have dreamt of when I first start thinking about buying a house in the Bahamas…. Well, she is at least that to me – warts and all and is indeed a full renovation – which I am merely in the midsts of still today.

“Hurricanes hardly ever happen….” - Except today, except now and except at this strength (my layman meteorologist in me at this point is guessing this is a Category 24.3)

Right now it is 12:29 pm October 2nd….Joaquin. Is. Upon. Us. Joaquin. “Katrina” has an emphasis. Joaquin? You have to be Jokin’ (phonetically how a relative pronounced it…). It has been on us since last night… I shut up the house at dusk.. I have been killing myself on it since about 5 am.

How long can this thing continue to last? Yes, I am running my maths – it is in theory moving at 6mph.. it was due to be hitting at max speed of 167 mph with a radius of 75km last night around midnight (great - now I have to do metric/empirical conversions). So, it is 12:29 pm Friday October 2nd and the wrath of Joaquin is STILL upon us – possibly, not even possibly – definitely. Obviously I have no power or phone or news – or view – with the exception of the increasing gap from beside the window I am so fearful of, and for.. I am barricaded in.  My 12 pm lifeline call on the cell/mobile had no hope of making it, and our island, my beautiful house, and I, are under an attack that feels as though it will never end. I am physically exhausted and mentally drained – I am fighting Joaquin on 2 windows with every inch of my life (yes, literally). Those 2 windows, if they blow, may/will, according to all that have advised me, cause my roof to blow off due to the pressure (disclaimer, I haven’t a CLUE – it just feels that way) – I am in a downstairs bathroom right now but if that window blows, I will fear for my safety. It will definitely be “goodbye” to all I have longed for. So ….you may indeed wonder why I am now typing this instead of fighting harder?

The truth is I have no energy left, every muscle in my body is destroyed and ripped in pain so I have to have a break and I am completely flummoxed as to what else to do – (IF YOU ARE A VETERAN TO HURRICANES DO NOT READ NEXT BIT)…. initially I was killing myself from bracing my body physically against the plywood that was protecting the window (WHAT TO NEVER EVER DO), then I grabbed everything I could – at this point that was the bed…so that I could make a mad rush downstairs to initially cart 50lb Trex packets and then? Then for good measure I carted 8 x 50lb bags of concrete from downstairs (which were barricading the front door) to upstairs – 5 of which I hoisted on top of the trex for downward pressure to apply against the lateral (hahaha, as if that makes any sense). All this merely to try to barricade a window that was meant to be in front of the bed that was never meant to hold the a/c unit we have in there.

It is at the point where the roof is making horrible noises and even I know, after 6 hours of struggle, I am not sure what more can be done but if it blows it will blow spectacularly. Where is my memory of high school physics right now? I can hear some “after the wrath” episode on some late night TV show with the voice over saying “in that second, Emma was not to know that her next move would be the mistake that cost her her house and all she held dear…..”

Things I am exceedingly grateful for.

1)   Hurricane shutters on the windows that DO have them… if, for one second you read this and think plywood might be the way to go – reconsider – or at least anything that you think can be held from an interior position versus fully covering. The windows that are my angst are plywood and attempting to be held from the inside. The plywood has soaked through and is mush from driving rain; yes, that is 5/8” treated ply…– the wind of 18 hours is doing the rest. The screws are literally bending.

2)   Stella Maris - I kid you not – Joerg was around just before the storm to check up on me, check I had fuel, water, food, every member of the Property Owners' Association seemed to send wishes…. I do have fuel, water etc but probably not enough! I know someone will find my carcass or me, I will be one of the first to get internet (ha… if if if)/electricity back up(would die of shock if there are any poles left) and the people are amazing. Nothing could have prevented me from buying on Long Island but buying Stella Maris…? At the time it was a fluke – I fell in love with the house, not the resort but every single day my husband and I are so grateful for the infrastructure, the support – the height, the network (you get the point).

3)   The house is a block house. First and foremost, apart from when I am actually leaning up against a window about to burst, I must say that I do feel “safe” – possibly delusionally, we shall see. My original dream had been a Tiki, Balinese style hut on a beach…. My, how my love of this house changed all that at first sight!

4)   Every piece of this house was designed “in case it floods” – my Ikea furniture has 4” legs, I have vinyl plank flooring that I can just pull up, dry out and re-lay but still have that “wood floor feeling” I so wanted. I had contemplated tile but hate it in 2 storey homes to have “clack clack” and notoriously they crack over time when you lay over a wooden subfloor.

5)   90% of my furniture has been constructed… thank god.. I have a few pieces that were too heavy in the garage that will probably need replacing but the kitchen was made and in situ…. YAY.

6)   There are baths in both bedrooms – if you need to wring wet towels out.. having a bath is a GREAT place for wet stuff!

7)   Vodka. I have Vodka (for non drinkers, replace this with anything you like) - I have vodka and a small piece of frozen rum cake that is defrosting as I type courtesy of zero electricity. I wouldn’t say I normally resort to beverages whilst fighting a storm but I am not normally in Category 37.3 storms (note the CAT level increasing): being on my own in this storm, right now it really really seems like the best of ideas before I go back into the trenches to fight round 2. Yesterday I had had a splitting headache from the barometric pressure (I am guessing) but today… fighting a storm put it out of my mind maybe – thus the Vodka seems medicinal.

8)   Hurricane Shutters – I am sorry did I mention that already…. .? Oh I remember the conversations “We will just use plywood – it is the first year”…. The windows I am fighting are the only ones that don’t have hurricance shutters on them – all 18 other windows are holding beyond beautifully (touch wood – or rather, wedged concrete bags & wood?) and, suffice to say, I am not thinking of them…

9)   I mentioned the vinyl plank flooring but did I mention the water proofed floor underneath?

10)  Lastly, despite everything , I am eternally grateful I am here. I love my house too much not to see it go without fighting for her. She is a new love and I am in the throngs of being beyond passionate about her. She is beautiful and deserves the best. I may not be the best but I am here.

Boy, did Joaquin blindside us.  Within 24 hours this went from potential Tropical Storm to a category 2 – as I was typing “OMG it is now a 2” – it was already a “3”…. When I had typed 3 on Stalkerbook – Toni Bennett (Gecko House), typed “I am seeing it as a 4”… then it was a “major 4”… each screen shot I took it went up another category - my guess is that numbers are pretty irrelevant after a certain point. It is bad. Very bad.

I am not sure what preparations are the “norm” but the concept that “I wish I had done more” must be running through everyone’s mind… oh oh… just heard LOUD BANG upstairs…I don’t even want to go and see…… maybe debris is just flying around?

…. 1:24 pm seriously – 6 mph – this storm is meant to be going?!?!?!…it has to be moving in SOME direction or is it just circling this particular island and my house?


Damage report

Upstairs window barely holding. By carting concrete bags up to the window all I have now done is created a concrete soup as loud “bang” were 3 of the bags that were blown off their support and fell to the ground and broke open. I have inadvertently created a soup of concrete/water/leaves… good grief.  Thank heavens the remainder bags stayed on their perch. Thank HEAVENS that was all that particular bang was.

Dripping sound from the attic…. Water is getting in – maybe just through a vent (please, please, please) – popping sound .. not good – roof shingles? Roofing Nails? Please not hurricane ties…

In fact, now I am breathing I am noticing water is coming in from everywhere – downstairs in the kitchen by the fridge; somewhere it is running the floor joists between the floors so I have point drips along the roof of the first floor… again, thank heavens we planned for being able to pull the floor up easily to dry out so no mould. Already planning to drill a few pilot holes to allow air to flow and release any retained water.

I  have a lake! I am water front now! I am officially naming my new lake “WhatThe” – it isn’t big – about 1.5 metres and conveniently located at the front door (which is 2 inches off the ground)… over the kitchen countertop I am viewing the drip as a new water feature which will obviously only add value to resale. On the plus, I have discovered that clothing has a far, far more practical application. My new bra – yep, concrete/water mop. My fabulous dress for some great Rum Punch party – yep, concrete/water mop; in fact, every single item of clothing, every cloth, every piece of bedding has now been promoted to having a far more practical purpose as “mop”.

NO!!!!!! PLEASE NO Roof has made some horrific noise – gotta run. It is a war of attrition with the window and seemingly with my roof. I am not winning this war. I had banked literally on the wind changing from the North to the West to give the North face a break… it hasn’t budged and that window and the roof eaves have been surviving 18 hours on nothing. It, like me, is beyond exhausted.

I don’t think the roof will hold – which, given how much money we spent on making sure it was ready for this is sad. Of course we don’t have hurricane insurance. The deductible and the premium meant we would have needed 6k of damage to break even – hmmmmmm, a bit late to re-think but I am thinking it might have been a good idea at this point.

I am dripping sweat. Even though the upstairs window is increasingly giving me a wonderful shower and airing…oh and daylight (with the gap 3 inches and increasing), the scurrying around is nightmarish in what is effectively a glorified pressure-cooking tin pot at this point. Again, lucky I have donated all clothing to the floor.

This storm will abate, but could it please abate SOON?

I am desperately trying to remember what the forecasts said; looking at the screen shots I took to post to friends and family they all, and I kid you not, all say that I should be drinking margaritas by now and hoping the best for the next poor people in his path…(Note to self :– learn recipe for Margaritas).

1:56 pm – winds coming from all directions. Not liking the cool breeze I am feeling – what has given way? Roof still holding – window, by some miracle still, still holding – precariously, but holding… (please, please….)

3:17 pm – oh come on, seriously, please go somewhere away from here. It is now driving rain/wind in all directions (could it be shifting direction a bit to give my north a break?).  Need to add extra point to be thankful for:

This crazy concept of having a design feature for the 2 baths in that so much as right now… Front Balcony South Side is flooding through the French doors – straight into that drain! The wardrobe (mdf, great sponge-like material), less than 3 inches away but up on the “higher” ledge is completely safe (so far!).

Happy day moment!

Brief moment for reflection: What would I have done differently (thus far).

1)   Hurricane shutter up the hurricane shutters…. The irony that if I had had hurricane shutters on all windows I literally would have simply been playing computer games and fixing myself another cuppa between giving the floors a quick clean with all the free water being supplied (up, under and, just for good measure incase the walls needed a wash - also over the windows)

2)   Towels – put towels under every single window – squidgy mops beside every door – and those not conveniently with a drain in front of them, buckets for wringing said mops. The doors were all designed with a 3 inch step up into the house – so I would hate to think what someone not on a hill and without that lip would have faced –thinking suddenly of everyone else. I have my tools I can lend to people and my car is 4wd to help.

3)   Have someone, anyone with you – not something to do alone – my clothes were donated to Joaquin because it was all I could grab with one hand while struggling to hold the window in the other type thing – (this point notably would have been moot if 1 had been more stringently adhered to).

I did a lot that I feel was either by fate lucky or by design – furniture, flooring, materials etc. I did insist on hurricane shutters that I could manage by myself… I insisted every piece of wood was “Hurricane Katrina” ready and, I must say, that has been the most reassuring thought throughout this. This project added a balcony and at least 10 extra windows – each window an entry point and potential weakness and I feel relieved beyond relieved to know what went into it (even if I was complaining about the cost of another 5/8” Stainless Steel “thing”)!

The roof?  Was inherited - but Craig Fox had his best guys go over it with a fine tooth comb – if it doesn’t survive, it isn’t through lack of skill or talent or materials being thrown at it. That being said, out of the sliver of space I can see, I can see some roof shingles – I just hope hope hope hope…..

3:45 pm – thought it was abating somewhat – it has just whipped up again. WHERE IS THIS THING RIGHT NOW… I am a “fact, analyse” person – I HATE not knowing.

6 mph in a northerly direction – at 8 pm on Thursday my little map had this off shore parallel to us – maybe a little south… 6 mph in a northerly direction from that point would have have that 120 miles north of here by now… with a 75km radius – even at the southern tip of the storm we should be “out of it”… hmmmmm. Me thinks someone was not so accurate or my maths are being affected by “haven’t slept/eaten/washed/stopped” in many hours.

9:12 pm – night again and STILL the winds and rain are up – the gusts are the most worrying now. I am allowing myself the luxury of knowing there is nothing more I can do and need to try to eat something and sleep. My greatest fear is that even though the storm must be almost past, (surely?!), that something gives because, it, like me, just can’t take it any more. So I sign off wishing my house the strength to hold on… just a little more. I am sure she will need some tender loving care in the morning. I am so, so, so proud of her – hang in there little house!


Given time over – what wouldn’t I have done?  Ever, ever missed the opportunity to buy a house at Stella Maris. If you read this to wonder “is it worth it”… the answer, even as I was leaning on the plywood trying to keep 140 mph+ winds from hurting my house, even in the midsts of being about to potentially lose it all? Is yes. 40,000% yes… but have hurricane shutters!


POST SCRIPT - the Aftermath as documented.

Coastguard reps told me 180 sustained with gusts up to 230 mph just off Salt Pond. All I know is that we were so "lucky" up north and had minimal damage by comparison to others….it looked no less than an Australian bushfire when I came outside Sunday for the first time.  Every leaf was wind burnt off the trees. They just had vanished. It bore all the similarity down south to that of a war zone as described by an ex war reporter on this island.

My Damage Report:

FLOOR: I did have to re-lay the entire house worth of vinyl flooring as sadly I hadn't yet caulked around the the perimeter so water got between the subfloor and the vinyl which would have bred mould. Gutting and after only just finishing laying it in the first place but you just roll your sleeves up and get on with it. 10 days later and you never knew the difference!

LINENS AND BEDDING - I was FLOORED that the bed survived! IKEA BEDS ROCK. They have the most impervious to water cover on their mattresses - it should have been toast. It had literally 20 gallons of water and concrete soup I am sure pour onto it and when I took the cover off, it was bone dry underneath. I love IKEA! Everything else was a production line to dry every single item of clothing, bedding, linens, pillows before the mould set in. I did it! We had a blissful 2 days after the hurricane of fabulous weather but it is CRITICAL this is done - nothing was clean but it was dried in the "race against mould".

ROOF: I had a quarter of the roof missing shingles and a good leak that required emergency Grace Ice and Water Shield until my shingles arrived.  We had bad storms just after the hurricane abated and my electricity was down just on a month in total. My internet was down for precisely 6 weeks…I was unique as I had had a direct hit on the line between my house and the pole... GET A GOOD BUT QUIET GENERATOR. THANK GOD for Stella Maris Resort - they were the "hub" of hurricane survivor stories - and there were some terrible ones to hear. 


Fill your water tank if you can… have a bucket with a rope if you don't have a generator that can operate your water pump. HAVE BLEACH ON STANDBY.

Definitely fill your bathtubs and sinks - you will need it to flush toilets.

OVER PREPARE… which is an impossibility.

Have at LEAST 20 gallons of drinking water… you could be days without.

HAVE a Satellite Phone - only one person did… I have one now!! 

Fill your car with petrol

Get a MILLION flashlights - preferably solar or dynamo… batteries die and are scarce on the island.

Solar Chargers for phones…and download every stupid game you can think of or else you will end up writing a blog no one is likely to ever read!

Tinned Food

Gas for BBQ - it will be your only cooking method for possibly weeks.

You WILL get through it - have a safe room if needs be though….