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Recalling Hurricane Gilbert in Jamaica

The evening of September 12th, 1988 has been stamped into the memory of so many people; it was the night that Hurricane Gilbert ravished the Jamaican island. There are very few Jamaicans who experienced Hurricane Gilbert that don’t reference it today. However, those individuals were old enough to recognize the severity and importance of the hurricane despite whether or not they’d be severely impacted. To have lived through Hurricane Gilbert has always been referenced to me as a blessing growing up as a young Jamaican woman. However, the unimaginable for so many Hurricane Gilbert survivors is living through another. Unfortunately, Tameika Halliman experienced both Hurricane Gilbert and Hurricane Sandy. I had the opportunity to interview her and be able to document her experiences. 

Images of ruins in Jamaica after the 1988 storm.

Ms. Halliman was only 9 years old when Hurricane Gilbert hit, and it’s amazing to see how vivid her memories of the event are. Her ability to recount these events and even recall the emotions that she was experiencing really put into perspective the long-term impact of trauma and traumatic experiences. 

For Tameika, the days leading up to Hurricane Gilbert’s arrival seemed to drag along. She recalls being a little girl and eavesdropping on conversations that the adults around her were having. The town she lived in was just outside of where Hurricane Gilbert would be doing its worst damage. She knew this because her parents ensured her that despite what other kids at school were telling her about how terrible the hurricane would be, they would be fine. In the U.S., people often receive hurricane warnings and are given access to resources that will help them prepare. When asked, Tameika said that she could not even recall buying extra food. At the time, her family had animals of their own, so the only preparation that was made was bringing in the goats and cows into the barn. During my discussion with Tameika, she stated that her siblings had enjoyed the night, but this was only because they could not actually comprehend what the hurricane would have in store for others. 

Hurricane Gilbert spanned the entire length of Jamaica.

The afternoon that Hurricane Gilbert hit, Tameika, her older brother and her younger sister went to the roof of their house. They had never experienced a storm like this, and thought it’d be fun to play in the rain. She vividly recalled the zinc flying around in the sky as she played with her siblings in the rain. The three siblings played in the rain on the roof and in the backyard until it got too dark and they went inside. They went inside that night without knowing how much the hurricane’s activities would impact them. That night, Hurricane Gilbert ravished the entire length of the island of Jamaica, resulting in over 50 deaths. 

Ruined police station post Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

Jamaica was in despair after Hurricane Gilbert passed over the island. Houses were destroyed, electricity was lost, and water supplies for some became contaminated. Tameika recalls experiencing lack of electricity in her town; for her as a little girl, that meant that her and her siblings couldn’t play for as long as they were used to and bedtime was just earlier. Ms. Halliman discussed with me how she had a fear of the dark as a young girl and that was exacerbated during this time period. She discussed feelings of betrayal from her parents; they had told her that Hurricane Gilbert would not do any damage to them, but here she was experiencing the damage. Tameika recounted memories of sitting on her roof and looking down at the town below them that lay in ruin. The news reports surrounding Hurricane Gilbert documented the extensive damages that the island suffered. Over 100,000 homes were damaged, water and electricity supplies were damaged and many healthcare centers were damages as a result of Hurricane Gilbert passing along the length of Jamaica. 

Over thirty years have passed since Hurricane Gilbert struck the island of Jamaica. Tameika has since relocated to the United States and has started a family of her own. However, she has not shed the entirety of the trauma that she gained since experiencing Hurricane Gilbert. Though her immediate family didn’t feel what she called “devastating effects” of the hurricane, there were traumatic aftershocks that she endured. Examples that she gave me ranged from losing extended family members to losing her favorite teacher at school. Tameika also recalls family members from Kingston coming to stay with her for various ranges of time. Though these things at the time didn’t seem like a big deal, as an adult she often recognizes how the trauma has impacted her.

Image of ruins downhill after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

Interestingly, while in discussion with Tameika, she stated that whenever there is a hurricane warning in NYC, she makes herself over prepared each time. When she experienced Hurricane Sandy a few years back, she stockpiled canned goods, invited family members living close to water to stay with her and ensured that her landlord have a backup power generator. Because of where she lived, none of these precautions were necessary and no one directly related to her felt any “devastating” impacts. However, it just goes to show that trauma can be long standing. From Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Tameika Halliman has continued to work through the trauma that comes with being a disaster survivor. 

1 Comment

  1. This is a well written and interesting post. However, I would have liked more direct quotes from your interview subjects to get a better sense of their personalities and reflections.

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