In Fabian's Eye--The Professor Survives a Hurricane in Bermuda
(photo captions at end)


 
Hurricane Fabian struck Bermuda on Friday evening, September 5th--a Category Four hurricane with 140 mph winds, the worst to strike Bermuda in 60 years. Kathy and I were marooned for three days--but unharmed. We missed a lot of the fun we had planned, but we were inside the hotel, the power stayed on, the air-conditioning functioned, and there was plentiful food. Our clothes didn't even get wet. We were the lucky ones.
 
Bermuda is a prosperous place with strict building standards. Most persons aren't rich, but no one lives in a shack. Hurricane Fabian wreaked much damage to trees, electric wires, roofs, boats, etc. But no houses fell over. The only tragedy was the loss of four persons who were killed when a police car and a civilian auto were washed off the airport causeway.
 
We were at the Fairmont Southampton Princess Hotel. As Fabian approached on Thursday, September 4th, notices were posted that American Airlines was running an extra flight to New York for those who wanted to leave. As a 31-year denizen of Wall Street, however, I tend to discount predictions, and I expected the forecast of a direct hit by the hurricane to be pessimistic...I thought the storm would turn in some unpredictable way, and we would be playing golf again. Indeed, my CEO had warned me not to go on vacation because of the bad weather, but I failed to heed his advice.
 
Fabian didn't turn. By Thursday afternoon, the ocean was kicking up and winds were gusting to 40 mph. We watched two cruise ships flee the harbor in winds that were causing the vessels to list sharply. It felt good to be on land.
 
Friday morning, it was too windy to open the golf course. The hotel instructed all guests to report to the amphitheatre at 4 PM (safely located at subbasement level, with no windows). 200 guests plus staff from the waterfront Sonesta Hotel also checked into the Princess Hotel for safety. Many local residents arrived in the belief that the hotel would be safer than their houses.
 
By 5 PM, the amphitheatre was filled with over 800 guests, sitting at tables set for dinner...replete with flowers! As the storm struck, the lights flickered repeatedly, but the power did not fail. My biggest fear was that we would be among 800 persons stuck in the poorly ventilated amphitheatre without air-conditioning! We learned that the hotel had a direct underground cable to the power station. So as long as the powerplant functioned, we would have electricity--and the power station remained up throughout the storm. Outside the hotel, about 90% of Bermuda lost power.
 
The manager of the hotel frequently appeared on the stage and gave military-style briefings including weather reports. A couple of hours into the storm, however, he revealed that both phone and radio contact had been lost. Since it was too dangerous to go upstairs, he had no idea what damage was being suffered. Within the amphitheatre, water had begun dripping from some of the ceiling fixtures, and there were periodic gusts of wind as upstairs windows blew out.
 
Fabian was precisely on course...the eye-of-the-storm passed directly over Bermuda...a hole-in-one! When the eye arrived, hotel staff had less than an hour of relative calm in which to inspect the building, and the manager reported that the hotel had suffered structural damage. Some water pipes had broken as walls had moved, the roofing material had blown off, and at least 100 of the 529 guest rooms were uninhabitable.
 
Within the amphitheatre, we were served two incredibly elaborate meals--but no alcohol. The hotel had been fully booked for a hedge fund conference the following week, and there was ample food. But there was no entertainment in the amphitheatre. Electronics in the projection room failed. Many guests were frightened...those at our table were popping Valiums. At one point, a man from the Bermuda Tourism Ministry appeared on stage...a ringer for Colin Powell...he apologized for NOT being Powell...and he tried to attract volunteer entertainers to the stage but failed. (If only more of the Rumdogs Crew had been present....)
 
It wasn't until 1 AM that the storm subsided and guests were permitted to go upstairs to their rooms. Those in damaged rooms and on dangerous floors had to be moved. We were relocated to a lower floor. Our new room had not been cleaned since the last guests, and our instant reaction was to call for service...then, in a moment, we realized that we had a trivial problem...the hotel staff had bigger problems than our dirty room...so I went up to the top floor and took the bedclothes and towels from our old room (which was still dry).
 
Water was dripping from the ceiling of the top floor and fire alarms were sounding (shorted out--but no fires!). Soon, the hotel had to turn off the power on the top floor. As rain continued in the aftermath of the storm, and as water continued to seep through the hotel, some of the guests who had been moved to different rooms had to again be moved--this time to cots in a large conference room on the first floor.
 
The hotel charged nothing for accommodations or for food during the storm.
 
Bermudans are extremely friendly and courteous, and their wonderfully positive attitude came to the fore as Fabian struck. Virtually the entire hotel staff remained calm and confident and ready to assist--even though many of them had brought their own families to the hotel for safety and they must have been worried about their own homes and friends. Indeed, the hotel handled the situation remarkably well.
 
After the storm, newspapers reported that there had been some looting of liquor stores in Hamilton, but we saw no signs of misbehavior in Southampton. We walked down to the beach and encountered many local residents who were gawking at the wreckage, but no one was stealing anything--and there was plenty to take. A dive shop at the beach had been washed out to sea, and scuba equipment was littering the area--air tanks, wet suits, fins, etc. A rent-a-kayak was floating inside a swamped tennis court--having been washed and/or blown over the fence!
 
To me, storms are exciting. I was confident that the hotel was safe. I survived a really bad hurricane in Miami as a small child; the power went out and the city water was contaminated. As a child, I also lived through a hurricane on Long Island that left streets paved with roofing shingles. Fabian was a bad one...yet...it was a lot more exciting than golf!

 
Delta was the 
first to resume service to Bermuda
 
Delta was the first scheduled carrier to resume service to Bermuda, while the airport was still under water. The computers were destroyed, and passenger tickets and boarding passes had to be written in longhand!
 
 
The hilly, waterview golf course proved to be highly exposed to Fabian. Somehow, the Professor's golfclubs--stored in the badly damaged clubhouse--survived unscathed!
 
 
As a Fairmont Hotels frequent sleeper, the Professor was upgraded to a luxurious Gold Class room on the top floor...where Fabian hit hardest, smashing windows, ripping off all of the roofing material and some of the roof itself, and drenching the personal effects of most of the guests.
 
 
This isn't a saloon after John Wayne has routed the bad guys: it's the hotel cocktail lounge the morning after Fabian.
 
 
The evening before Fabian, the Professor and wife Kathy pose before a rough sea.
 
 
The morning after Fabian, the Professor gawks at the hallway outside his hotel room.





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