Two cyclones in two weeks. Whew. First Cyclone Cyril brushed past us, flooding the eastern end of our fishhook-shaped island, and bringing the mango season to an early end – there were thousands of mangoes for sale for a few days after Cyril, and then - done. Then seven days later, Tropical Cyclone Jasmine began toying with Tonga. Her track went northeast from Australia, then she did a Dr. Seuss-worthy loop in place just west of us that lasted four days, before she finally headed southeast and dissolved over the empty ocean. During those four days, we went from sunshine to sprinkles to 28 inches of rain in 24 hours, and back to sunshine, with the humidity staying at nearly 100% the whole time. Can you say soggy?
|The Humanitarian Services building downtown - this was |
typical of the flood damage.
Jasmine did much more damage to our island than Cyril. The houses which were flooded the first time didn’t even have time to dry out before they were inundated a second time. And even in our area, the center of the island, the storm brought down trees and damaged buildings – that lovely little roadside stand that I showed in the last blog was completely in shambles, though I must say the industrious family had a makeshift version up about five days after the storm. I expected some of the softer-wood trees, like pines and coconut palms, to suffer, especially the ones with small root systems, but I have been surprised at the number of large, hardwood trees split open by this Category One storm. Makes me wonder what would happen in a Category Four – no, never mind, I don’t have to find that out.
Well, living on an island during a storm has taught me the value of the phrase “batten down the hatches”. Most of the stores downtown boarded up their glass windows and rolled down their metal security doors, to be secure. I expected that kind of preparation, but there were a few surprises in store for me. The electricity went out (nothing new, that happens frequently here, but Liahona Village has their own backup generator), and along with that, our internet connection. We don’t have a key to get into the storage area to push the “reset” button on the internet supply, so we were without an internet connection for three days, until the Tech crew reported back to work. Couldn’t get a weather report, couldn’t tell family what was going on. Then the TV stations (there are only 2 here) stopped broadcasting. Their equipment is not sturdy enough to be exposed to winds of hurricane speed, so they just closed their doors and sent everyone home. And finally the cell phone service was cut – again, the antennae are subject to damage in high winds, so they retracted their antennae. I felt like I was in a time warp, about 50 years in the past. I can’t remember being as isolated as that since 1958, when a snowstorm made Falls Church, Virginia look like Nome, Alaska, and my mother boiled snow for drinking water.
Again, the eastern end of our island suffered the most – flooding, roofs torn off, electrical wires down, even along the road that leads to the King’s Palace. And lots of downed trees. The Red Cross brought in emergency clothing, bleach and soap, to help families stave off water-borne infections. The Prime Minister made an official address to the nation, thanking families for protecting each other during and after the storm. Thank heaven the village structure is still alive and well here, with the chiefs making sure that every family was okay, and reporting to the government. No fatalities were reported, and that’s always a good thing.
Our little home was pretty safe during the storm. We did get some water inside the “attic” space, and it managed to drain down into our bedroom ceiling light fixture, on the north side of our home, where the wind was blowing the rain sideways. At the end of the second day, an electrician came to our house and drained the water from the light fixture. He took the rest of the fixture apart, wiped it dry, and reported that even though the water that had collected in the light was orange with rust, apparently the water hadn’t gotten into the wiring. The wiring looked safe, so he put everything back together and said it would be okay. We still waited a couple extra days before we turned on that light, just to make sure everything DID dry out! Keep your fingers crossed, no problems since.
As the electrician left our home, Jim noticed that he was barefoot. “Did you leave your shoes inside our house?” asked Jim. “Oh, no,” replied the electrician, “I left them at the last house I worked at. The house was flooded, so I just left my shoes outside, and I forgot them there. I’ll go back for them now.” It wasn’t until later that Jim and I understood the impact of that electrician’s statement. He had been working in a FLOODED room on ELECTRICAL WIRING – without wearing rubber shoes! And if his example in our house was any indicator, he hadn’t ever turned the power off to the wires.
Years ago, when we lived in Naples, Italy, we used to joke that you were completely comfortable in Naples when you offered to light the cigarette of the gas station attendant filling the tank of your car. Now we’ve got one for Tonga – you’re completely comfortable when you invite a barefooted electrician to come work on live wires in a flooded room! Ha!
Our other casualty was our little Macbook – apparently four days of 100% humidity was more than the six-year old laptop could handle. We’ll buy another one and have it shipped from New Zealand, but it will take a few more weeks, doing bank transfers and waiting for delivery. Nothing happens quickly in the islands! Here’s hoping the next one is more moisture resistant!
So, all the trees are a little one-sided now, but life is getting back to normal. It took three weeks to have six days of school, and some of the schools closer to the coast still have large pools of water on the grounds, but everyone really appreciates the sunshine and the breezes, and we’re all grateful for the protection and shelter we enjoyed during the storm. Thanks to our window-unit air conditioners, we have dried out. And the sky seems a little bluer, the air a little cleaner, the birdsongs a little more joyous, the flowers a little more colorful. Life is wonderful – now let’s get back to business.