That Day In September – Remembering Hurricanes Gilbert & Ivan


Water come inna mi room

Mi sweep out some with mi broom

Di likkle dog laugh to see such fun

And di dish run away with the spoon.

Wild Gilbert‘ – Lloyd Lovindeer


Monday, September 12, 1988: 10 am – Jamaicans had been bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Gilbert and no doubt thought we were well prepared. However, when the storm made landfall, we soon found out otherwise.

The eye measured about 15 miles across. Wind speeds averaging 75 miles per hour (mph) gusting to 127 mph were recorded in the Kingston Metropolitan Area. As the eye exited western Jamaica at 6 pm, it intensified further 888 millibars).

Jamaica basically ground to a halt as Gilbert devastated all sectors of the society and the economy:

  • Damage was estimated at $4 billion, with the damage to agriculture accounting for more than 40 per cent of this total.
  • Forty-five persons reportedly died across the island.
  • Ninety-five per cent of all health facilities suffered damage.
  • It was estimated that more than 800,000 persons sought shelter.
  • A one-month State of Public Emergency was declared for St Thomas, St Catherine, and Kingston and St Andrew.
  • It took several months for water, electricity, and telephone services to be fully restored across the island.
  • Gilbert was the first hurricane in 37 years to hit Jamaica directly.
  • It was the most destructive storm in the history of Jamaica and the most severe storm since Hurricane Charlie in 1951.
  • Because of its devastating impact, the name Gilbert was retired from the list of hurricane names.

In the ensuing years, Jamaica was spared any other significant brushes with hurricanes, leading many locals to declare that God was protecting us from danger. But 16 years later, almost to the day, our luck would change.


Hurricane Ivan

The center of Hurricane Ivan passed south of Jamaica on September 11 and 12. High winds and heavy rainfall lashed the island, causing significant wind damage, floods and landslides. Again, the nation’s agriculture sector was severely damaged, along with many roads. According to a report by Barbara Carby, then-director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), “Ivan resulted in 14 deaths, and caused damage across the island, with southern parishes suffering the greatest damage. Storm surges of 3-4 metres in some locations caused extensive damage to natural coastal systems and housing, and was responsible for several deaths. Wind damage to vegetation and roofs was also severe, particularly at higher elevations.” The total cost of damage, direct and indirect, was valued at $36.9billion.

Ivan was one of the most intense hurricanes in Jamaica’s recorded history, and it didn’t even make direct contact! The hurricane had its eye set on Jamaica when, inexplicably, it deviated south. Can you imagine if we had suffered a direct hit?

diG Deeper