It was during the small hours of the night when I heard the telephone constantly
ringing. Befuddled with sleep I could recognise the voice of the Commissioner of
Police asking for Dr. O'Mahony. Apparently there was an hurricane alert but I was
not to be 'alarmed'. Shaking my husband awake I handed him the 'phone. Yes, Piace
Air Base in Trinidad had alerted us that Hurricane Janet had altered course and was
heading for Barbados. Several hours could elapse before it reached us but there was
much to do.
In less than 10 minutes Dr. O'Mahony was dressed had taken out the car and was
headed for Police Headquarters and the big General Hospital nearby.
My first job was to close the big hurricane shutters on all 20 windows. Jamming each
one of them with the great wooden bars to ensure their security. Then to telephone
various friends to whom we had promised shelter in the event of a severe storm. So far
the public had not been alerted and the time was around 3 a.m. I left the radio on as I
knew that in due time the Government would be broadcasting general instructions as
to what to do.
Then down to the big flat beneath our apartment which belonged to the Director of
Public Works, now on vacation in Trinidad. Again I had some 20 big windows to
secure, doors to bolt and in agony I had to decide that all the beautiful plants on their
verandah would have to be left to the mercy of the oncoming storm.
Dr. O'Mahony rushed in for a few minutes, swallowed a cup of tea, a bite of toast,
and was away again in an endeavour to visit the many outlying country hospitals -
about 7 of them, a few of which were below or at sea-level. Now I could hear Police
Vans with hailers telling the public to clear the roads, batten down their homes and
remain there. The streets were no longer safe. Meanwhile the wind increased and our
friends were arriving with emergency cases, and even a young baby with his nurse.
In an endeavour to be shielded against the coming storm, a huge Shell Tanker had
been left against the great old boundary wall of the Garrison. Later I realised its worth
when it served military and other lorries as they subsequently went out on their various
missions. Beside the tanker were parked a big number of Public Works lorries
hopefully left there for later salvage work. Inside the ancient Fort Walls lay the big old
ammunition store, and this was now receiving military personnel and soon we could
hear the purr of a huge radio which was installed inside the walls which were about
10 ft. thick.
Returning to my flat I heard the Government broadcasts which were now on a more
urgent note. The hurricane was now expected rather earlier than anticipated and
would probably pass to the south of the Island. All business firms, banks, offices, etc.
were to close immediately and everyone was urged to get off the streets. Our good
Canadian friends, Mr. and Mrs. Garrett, had now arrived, together with their little
golden cocker spaniel. Alas they had not had breakfast so I had to set about cooking as
big a meal as possible for them, not knowing when the next meal would be.
Up until then the weather had been fairly normal but now I was aware of sharp gusts
of wind from the North West - an unusual quarter for us - and gradually these were
increasing with squally rain. Then Mrs. Merrivale Austin arrived with her daughter,
son-in-law, their babe of 2 1/2 years, together with Nanny. Multitudes of baggage were
carried in by their butler and chauffeur, who then hurriedly left for their own homes.
Then I allocated a great big spare bedroom to the nanny and babe and gave out the
necessary items for food preparation, etc. Mr. Austin was supposed to be in Grenada
with his brother, the Chief of Police, and in an endeavour to alleviate his anxiety we
put through a telephone call. Luck was with us and we got through, only to learn that
Merrivale had left for Trinidad. To our amazement, Grenada had then had no
intimation of the approach of 'Janet'. It was then approximately 10 a.m.
Dr. O'Mahony was still not home and the wind was increasing all the time.
Eventually however, he arrived, put his car in the garage and battened it down as
securely as possible. The wind had now shifted to the North and we could still stand on
our sheltered verandah, watching the trees being blown hither and thither.
Rediffusion had been off the air some time, and electricity now was cut out. Hurricane
lanterns had to be lighted as the hurricane shutters at the windows completely
precluded all light. Then came the deep murmur of the emergency generator from the
Military H.Q. nearby. I prayed that the aerials, both there and at Police H.Q. and at
Government House would stand up to the fury of the gale which was now ranging
around us. Through a tiny gap in the kitchen jalousies we watched the torment of a
quadrangle of tulip trees some 80 ft. high, as limb by limb they were torn apart, one of
them flung across a building behind us. Then a great evergreen tree, a centenarian at
that, had its branches torn off like shreds of paper. Corrugated sheets from nearby
Nissen huts were being flown around in profusion whilst the noise was utterly
terrifying. The wind was shifting again and we realised that the peak of the storm was
at hand. The menfolk kept a constant check of windows, doors, etc., which were taking a tremendous battering, but we heard the wind now approaching from the South and
our front door, which was of immense thickness, with four big bolts and two locks, was
beginning to give way. Hurling our full weight on it, my husband and Bill Duncan were
able to jam a huge 3ft. square piece of timber under the main lock and then wedge the
other end with further pieces of timber which they nailed to the floor. Now the great
gusts of wind were shaking the whole of this huge old building which had been Military
H.Q. for well over a hundred years. The wooden staircase leading up to the flat was
another anxiety - it was laced with a huge bouganvillia - but if it were torn down how
on earth could we get out of the building in an extreme emergency? We had Julian
Garrett, a man of 76 years, and Mary Ann Duncan, a pregnant woman, amongst our
The turning point soon arrived and by 1.45 p.m. we realized that the winds were
diminishing. Carefully opening the kitchen door, which had been protected by trellis
on its verandah, my husband carefully stepped out and I followed him. The great
lawns around us were smothered with leaves and the torn-off limbs, as well as many
entire trees completely uprooted. An acrid-like smell assailed us from everywhere; it
turned out to be sap from the tortured trees. The Adjutant and his staff, together with
some of the personnel, were now coming out from their shelter in the old Ammunition
Hall nearby. Almost immediately orders were being given for squads of men to start
out in convoys of lorries with lifting tackle in order to clear some of the main roads and
to re-establish communications. A squad was allocated to Dr. O'Mahony and he
immediately got out his car, - intact, thank God! - and they slowly started out to try
and get down to Medical Head Quarters at the General Hospital.
Marion Garret and I struggled through the debris towards the road, which was
blocked by fallen trees and a medley of telephone and electric light wires lay
everywhere. Several huge gas lamps from the huge holders had been snapped off and
lay in the littered road. Any trees which remained upright had been stripped of leaves
and had turned a dark brown. Venturing towards what had been a magnificent copse
of tamarind, manchineel and coconut trees which bordered the sea behind our flat, my
friend and I found it utterly impassable. The beautiful great trees had been ripped up
and hurled against one another, whilst the roots lay exposed some 8 to 10 feet in the
air. The erstwhile calm blue Carribbean was now a boiling, roaring horror. Sickened by
it all, we crept back home. No electricity, no refrigeration, but thank God I had an
adequate supply of food.
Mrs. Merrivale Austin started packing up her belongings when her chauffeur
arrived with news of the severe damage to their fine old home. The verandah had been
completely destroyed and it was feared that the house itself had shifted from its
foundations. A tree had been blown down across the roof of the garage, which had
given way under the impact. Their car was in a sorry state.
It was late at night when my husband returned, deadly tired and very silent. He fell
asleep in an armchair immediately, too weary to even walk to his bedroom. I roused
him later, gave him a light meal and he retired to bed. At 4 a.m. we were up again,
hurried cups of tea were made on an oil stove and once more the poor D.M.S. started
off on his Island-wide survey. The emergency dynamo from St. Ann's Fort was still
chugging away, and now lorries and other vehicles were coming and going all the time.
Little by little the whole battalion were reporting for duty. By daylight tents were being
erected on the surrounding lawns. Sentries were stationed and soldiers with rifles were
being sent out to guard strategic food supplies. Soon Army trucks with personnel were
leaving to try and open up the blocked roads and clear communications. The Public
Works Department called up all available carpenters, masons, etc., and instituted
flying squads to commence the immense task of repairing damaged buildings. Then
the Electricity Department and Telephone Company co-opted every electrician and every technician available and with vans, cars, or any possible
transport, they started off on the task of disentangling and repairing the hundreds of
miles of ruptured and damaged wires. Day and night these gangs of men worked in
relays at the immense task.
Later in the day, when there were only short sharp squalls of wind and rain, I
ventured further afield from our immediate vicinity. Sick at heart I saw the lovely great
trees uprooted and it was a miracle that so many had fallen between the houses or into
the road or gardens. Most homes appeared to be damaged in some way and many had
lost their roofs. Even strongly built concrete houses had their roofs entirely lifted off.
The sea was subsiding but the flooding in many places bore evidence to the
phenomenally high seas.
Approaching the many hotels bordering the sea, I found the verandahs piled high
with sand to a depth of 3 feet or so, whilst fish were floating in the flooded ground floor
lounges. The Royal Hotel, with its luxurious air-conditioned bedrooms, once the
proud possessor of a Restaurant built out on a pier in the sea, which had now vanished
and merely the damaged piers were left standing, was now roofless and derelict. The
Manager's beautiful bungalow, recently built, was now shifted from its foundations
and the roof lay shattered in the middle of the street. Further up the road I saw the
home of a distinguished merchant completely cut in two, as if from bomb damage.
My courage failed me here and a passing Staff Officer in a military jeep gave me a
much needed lift home. No servants and no help were anywhere available. Sand
carried in the wind had permeated every corner of the house. I swept and dusted until
my hands were blistered. My lovely mahogany furniture was dull and horrid from the
I then learned of a further horror which had occurred near our home. The big
Picture House, solidly built of concrete, had been used as a shelter for a large crowd of
people. The storm in its fury had ripped off the roof and so caused the walls to collapse.
There were many killed and seriously injured.