Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Gilbert Memories - 30 years later | Manchioneal still showing the scars

Published:Wednesday | September 12, 2018 | 12:06 AMCoriandre Lawrence/ Gleaner Writer
A building in Manchioneal, Portland without its roof which blew off 30 years ago as Hurricane Gilbert ravaged the island.

Richard Darby remembers the quiet Sunday afternoon before Hurricane Gilbert ravaged the seaport town of Manchioneal in Portland.

According to Darby, most residents doubted the hurricane's arrival and went about the Sunday in high spirit.

Hours later Gilbert struck - the sea rose up and mauled the community, leaving dozens homeless and grief stricken.

Thirty years later, broken and abandoned structures without roofs are remnants of Gilbert's devastation. Sections of the coast that once had windbreak vegetation of grape trees are now bare and exposed. Today, residents like Darby, hope to never experience a hurricane like Gilbert ever again, but the memory of the disastrous event on September 12, 1988 remains vivid in his mind.

"It was the sea that had the greatest impact on the community, because the sea just kept coming in. Where I was living I started to see the waves coming in my back yard ... it's a housing scheme close to the shore, it's a high cliff not far from the sea but the waves kept coming in" said Darby.

"We knew it wasn't safe because we had a little experience in 1980 with Hurricane Allen with the sea so we started moving out what we could but it kept coming so rapid, the waves kept coming very high, covering some of the houses."

When residents fled their houses, many of them went to the Manchioneal All Age School which served as a shelter for the community. And Darby, now a teacher at the school, assumed the role of shelter manager and a member of the community's relief team during the period.

"We had about 400 persons staying here ... but the breeze kept blowing the water inside so persons had to break down the classroom doors and stay in there. The whole community was really covered with seawater, a whole heap a sand. The next morning ... it was a little excitement for most persons because they were able to see turtle, fish, all sort of things just in their back yard, on the road and all that," said Darby.

"Sand covered the whole place, quite a number of trees fell and a lot of roofs (went) because people didn't pay attention to building standards at the time. As I said we weren't having any hurricanes ... so we had very scary experiences because we saw where some roofs literally came off, the complete roof flying over other buildings," added Daley.