The second major hurricane of the 2010 season brushed by the Virgin Islands on Monday, August 30, and caught many residents and boaters by surprise. Only three days previously tropical storm Earl was forecast to swing more towards the northwest and miss the islands by over a hundred miles. By Sunday morning the storm's relentless westward track had many mariners and worried residents rushing their security preparations to completion. At the same time a hurricane hunter aircraft deduced that the winds were now at hurricane force and meteorologists were predicting further strengthening. When satellite images showed St Martin and Anguilla getting pasted by strong tropical storm force conditions and hurricane force gusts, it became clear that the BVI was in for it.
By early Sunday afternoon charter boat companies were completing preparations by spider-webbing yachts into available dock spaces and a stream of yachts were heading for the BVI's hurricane hole at Paraquita Bay. The pre-storm calm quickly changed to a steady northeast breeze by sunset. Earl continued to strengthen throughout the night and by 0800 St. Martin reported winds of 70mph while the eye was still about 40 miles off.
Throughout Monday morning the storm continued to track WNW at about 15mph and approached Anegada in the BVI with winds close to 100mph. Fairly rapid intensification occurred between about noon and 1600 when the eye came closest to the island, a mere 20 miles away. When Earl was north of Anegada the winds, now at about 120 mph, clocked around to the WSW and all hell broke loose at the Setting Point anchorage. At this time the hurricane was given the dangerous designation, Category 4, with eye wall winds at 131mph plus.
Linda Soares of Neptune's Treasure restaurant and apartments filmed the storm at its fiercest. Breaking seas broached the bulkhead and engulfed the family property. Lashing spray three stories high and roiling waves flooded houses and out buildings. Some twenty lofty palms were flattened and their dock was torn out. Not a single dock remained along the shoreline and several large fishing boats were beached. Potter's by the Sea restaurant was almost completely destroyed.
The other islands of the BVI were spared the intensity of Anegada's experience but exposed north and western shores were also badly hit. Bob Carson of Southern Trades reported seas of eight to ten feet pounding Cane Garden Bay with 20-foot cresting waves off Surfing Point. Bomba's Shack at Capoon's Bay was severely undermined but looked surprisingly untouched from the road. On one blog it was reported that 'The Shack' suffered $100,000 worth of … improvements!
At Soper's Hole, Tortola's western most bay many boats were either beached or sunk. This deep bay with high hills on both north and south sides is susceptible to the Venturi effect, a funneling of wind creating a greater velocity. The large motor vessel Leylon Sneed was beached and the 65-foot Summer Breeze was partially sunk. Some eight other yachts were either sunk or beached. Galvanized roofing was blown off some buildings and there was damage to several docks.
In Road Town the roof of the Customs and Immigration building was blown right across the main thoroughfare and into the forecourt of Capriccio da Mare, an Italian cafÃ©. Several barges and ferries sustained damage and partial sinking on Road Harbour's eastern shore.
The extent of the damage around the interior of the islands was mostly downed trees and power lines. Some roofs were damaged and debris littered roads.
As of this writing (nine days later), clean up, repairs and rebuilding are going ahead apace. Amazingly, the Anegada Reef Hotel is open for business, power has been restored island wide and all roads are passable. Reports from Anegada are that the island will be in full swing for the coming season beginning October 1. Resilience and fortitude are words that aptly describe this proud little island.
The rest of the BVI is equally positive. The community really came together in time of need.
Julian Putley is the author of 'The Drinking Man's Guide to the BVI', 'Sunfun Calypso', and 'Sunfun Gospel'.