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Hurricane Gilbert

By NOAA

Hurricane Gilbert had the lowest sea level pressure (888 Mb) ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Gilbert reached Category 5 status, but at the time of it's landfall over Cozumel, Mexico on September 14, it had weakened to a category 3 storm.

Gilbert's northeastern track into Texas and Oklahoma caused $40-50 million in damages from the more than 29 tornadoes reported. Coastal regions in Mexico received 5-10 inches of rain. A total 318 people died due to the effects of this storm.

One of the most intense hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean Basin, Gilbert formed about 400 miles east of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He became a Category 1 Hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson scale) late on the 10th of September and moved west, just missing Cuba to the south. Gilbert continued its west/northwest movement increasing in strength by the minute, to a maximum Category 5 Hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph and gusts over 200 mph. Just before clipping the Yucatan Peninsula on September 13th, minimum central surface pressure with this storm was the lowest ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean at 26.13" of mercury or 885 millibars (mb) at 600pm (EDT) on the 13th.

NOAA Satellite

Hurricane Gilbert on September 13, 1988 - when it had the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

 

Gilbert was expected to head more northwest, in a path to hit the southeast Texas coast near Corpus Christi, but it remained on its near steady west/northwest track that finally took the storm into Mexico, about 120 miles south of Brownsville. Hurricane warnings were out along the Texas coast from Port O'Connor down to Brownsville...while Hurricane watches were extended from Port O'Connor up to Port Arthur, Texas. Evacuations, to be done by the U.S. Government, were ready to be enforced should Gilbert had decided to turn more to the north. Because of its actual land target along the upper Mexican Coast, minimal effects and damage occurred over the Coastal Bend area.

Source: NOAA.

 

Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Hurricane Gilbert? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I was living on the island of Cozumel when this hurricane struck I foolishly did not go home because I did not realize what a powerful storm it was going to be. I grew up in the north east and most of our hurricanes here are pretty mild with the winds no more than 80 mph. I started to woryy when my friends and neighbors started to board up their windows and by then it was to late to leave. To date it was the most horrifying experience of my life. The noise was horrendous and it seemed to go on forever. We could hear things hitting the side of the building we were staying in. It was a private home with concrete walls reinforced with railroad ties. The devastation after the storm was to me unbelievable. It was like being in a nightmare. Whole buildings has been blown or washed away. There seemed to be sand and huge rocks and boulders on the beaches and in the resort swimming pools. The only thing remaining in the garden of the house I was staying in were 2 douglas fir trees. The storm made a mess of the reefs as well as the island itself.We had no electricity, no running water, we had to look very hard to find even bottled water. There were no phone lines. It was like this for about 2 weeks after the storm and then it started to get better. I stuck around a while to help clean up and then I went home."

--AJ

"I was in Jamica as Gilbert hit in 1988. It was the most ferocious storm I have ever seen. The wind was blowing so had it was like the movie the Wizard of Oz when you looked out the window. The whole world was blowing sidewards. We (foolish) decided to open the patio door. The door was slid open no more than an inch and the wind blew into the room knocking the pictures off the wall and the lamp over. Needless to say we immediatly shut the door and went back into the hallway away from any glass. We spent the rest of our "all inclusive vacation" without electricity, running water, etc. Every palm tree in the resort was down. The people of jamica had unbelievable devastation."

--Claire

"First, having been in several before in S. Texas, I certainly had a different sense. From memory, I believe that we started getting the first hurricane force gales around maybe 11:PM, Shortly there after it was just simply unbelievable. We had moved inland the night before (just in the nick of time -as our room on the North shore area was demolished (would not have survived there) into a small two story concrete reinforced hotel. Nothing could have blown this building down, but we did loose our windows, one by a tree which came in and left the room in about 1 second. By maybe midnight it was full force hurricane with the full blown screaming lasting till about 11:00 or noon the next day. At that time we assumed the storm was over (as it had lasted so long - I kept trying to imagine that we were in the eye, as we could still hear the wind, but could not see the blue sky, at the s. edge of the eye)), only to find out about 40 minutes later that it was the eye. The back and south side of the storm went by much quicker, although the first several hours were a replay of the intense stuff. All in all, I would have estimated that we had sustained winds well in excess of 155 for many, many hours, certainnly the most intense weather of my life."

--Gary

"In San Antonio, TX the residual effect of Gilbert was the spawning of a series of massive tornados that caused substantial damage. The most destructive of the twisters passed within a few blocks of my business and residence at the time. Many of my acquaintances and friends were displaced by the damage to their homes and apartments."

--Anonymous

"It was horrible I didn't know what to do I was in a state of panic the whole place was a mess and nobody could find their family or friends. I hope that it will never happen again."

--Anonymous

"I was 10 years old when this hurricane occured, and lived with my family in the lower rio grande valley (my home was about a mile from the mexican border). We lived on a lake that connected to the Rio Grande River. When the hurricane came through the lake's waves were outrageous.. the wind was amazing. We lost electricity and kept up with news thru battery operated radio. The memory which stands out most from this event was my mom out in the hurricane, trying to dig a ditch around her pet guinnies (chicken like bird) pen because it was filling up with water. shw was holding on to posts sometimes when burts of wind got too high. the birds lived."

--AtomicPup

"My husband and I spent or Honeymoon in Cancun in Sept. of 1988. We were evacuated from the Sheraton after being in Mexico 1/2 day. We were sent to a mall with a glass roof. After the glass roof shattered down on us, we were moved to the resteraunt downstairs with 100's of other people for several days. We were givin a ration of 1/2 cup of refried beans and 1/2 cup of something to drink every day. We had no water, no toilets, no food, and of course, no electricity. When we finally bribed our way out at the airport - we were so happy to go home."

--Julie

"I had just joined the Peace Corps in 1988 and was sent to the beautiful island country of Jamiaca. After being in the country for jusdt under a month, I found myself in the middle of Gilbert's wrath. Group 42 memebers had been sent out to their respective villages to find suitable housing for the next two years when the hurricane was forcast. No one really believed it was going to happen, not even many Jamiacans. A new found volunteer friend and myself decided it wasn't really going to happen (though what would a native Minnesotan and native Californian know about hurricanes). We went to a movie; I believe it was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Upon returning to her house, we turned on the radio. The announcer stated that Gilbert was LIKELY to hit Jamaica the next morning, though he really didn't sound altogether convinced. We decided that we should at least fill up the bathtub, just in case. (The water supply would be cut off when the electircity goes out. In a third world country already unreliable electricity is unlikely to be reconnected anytime soon). The next morning at 10:00 and on into the next day was the most unbelievable sights and sounds I have ever experienced. We listened into the night to the radio of play by play accounts until that too succumed to the storm. We sat in candlelight and appropriately named hurrican lanterns, along with my friend's landlady, while we heard the roof smash down into the middle of the living room floor. THe subsequent rain that went on lasted for two weeks. We were so glad we had filled the bathtub. Afterward I was sent back to my host family in Spanishtown, where there were gunshots late into the night as the people fought over the only remaining water source at the firehydrant across the street. My family didn't hear from me for a very long time."

--Denise Gerdes

"I lived through Gilbert and barely. Today was the first time since 1988 that I have seen photos or info on Gilbert. We lost power in Kingston Jamaica where I lived a good 14 hours before we were hit with the fury. Winds were recorded in excess of 200mph and it's strength was incomprehensible. The movie "Twister" was no exaggeration, but those scenes became reality outside and within our home. My family and I barely escaped with our lives but many did not and hence I can't understand that Jamaica is rarely referred on many sites but instead they mention lanfall was made on the Yucatan when it was then a category 3. I witnessed glassdoors exploding while our belongings were sucked out of the house. We found a 200 pound couch about 500 yards away up on the hill, and it took 2 full years for the land and trees to recover from the devastation."

--Benji

"I will always remember my trip to my brothers house in a very small rural town of WhiteHouse Jamaica about 2 hours from Montego Bay. We heard that hurricane Gilbert was heading our way, but nobody believed them, including the local Jamaicans. When Gilbert arrived it was the most horrific experence of my life. The wind blew so hard the pressure actually hurt your ears. It sounded much like a freight train going over the house.

For some 48 hours we endured the rain, wind and damage. I have lived through tornado's before in my homestate of Michigan, but this was like 100 of them at once. It took me over a week to be able to get back to the airport in Montego Bay to catch a flight back home. The airport suffered major damage and I remember seeing all kinds of small planes blow over, including a large DC3 plane.

It was a bit of irony when I finally landed in Florida and got to a telephone to call and let my friends and family know I was alive and survived Gilbert. I was informed that my Nephew, David Ehlow from Southern California was ALSO in Gilberts rage, but in Cancun, Mexico. He too survived!"

--Patrick T. Archer Redding, California

"I was seven when Gilbert struck my small home. All I remember was that my mother and father were pushing me and my brother into our neighbers celler. My dad locked the doors and we sat in the dark for hours, when the storm was over our home was gone."

--kokokajo

"I was in Jamaica (Negril) to celebrate my 20th birthday in a hotel that belonged to a friend of mine. Construction on the hotel had recently been completed and we were invited to stay prior to the actual opening -- hence, my girlfriend and I were the only guests actually staying at the waterfront hotel.

The day before Hurricane Gilbert struck we were in a seaside cafe' chatting about the reports of the impending storm, when an old Jamaican man who had overheard our conversation interrupted us to tell us that it was all hogwash! "They always talk about hurricanes, but they never hit the island", he told us. Reassured, (and glad to have an excuse not to cut our vacation short), we chose to stay on the island.

The next day it became clear that SOMETHING storm-like was definitely going to happen. Waves were kicking up and we sat under the little thatched-hut umbrellas making "HURRICANE cocktails". As the day progressed into the evening, the prime minister of Jamaica came on the radio and began to give information about emergency shelters. At the end of his speech, the prime minister told us that they were cutting off power to the island to avoid accidental electricutions -- before the dead air came, he signed off with something like "god bless you. god bless jamaica". Silence. Until we got cuban radio, which reported the progress of the storm for a few more hours.

That evening the hurricane began in full force. The two of us, along with two or three groundskeepers (one very nice man named "Friend") headed to the second-story kitchen. It seemed safest due to the stainless steel counters and walls -- and at least it wasn't on the ground floor. We sat on the floors (under the counters) for at least 10 hours. Glass from the windows shattered and blew into the room. The roof of the covered patio, along with part of the kitchen roof (over our heads!) ripped off and blew away. The roar was like a train heading at us. Finally the eye came. It was quiet. We heard hissing in the back and ran out to find a gas tank that was leaking. We turned it off.

A stray puppy that I had been feeding during the week came out from under the porch. I grabbed him (grateful for someone to take care of) and we headed to a hotel room to weather the second half of the storm. It kicked up again, just as strong as before, and we slept on and off through the night.

The next few days are a blur. We got fleas from the dog. There was looting outside the hotel gate at a hardware store (people trying to get materials to repair their homes). The roads were washed away -- and some guy tried to charge people to drive onto his yard - this resulted in an official waving a gun around. We had plenty of food (thawing from the hotel freezer). No electricity. No phone. No way to tell our families we were safe. The hotel was severely damaged. Land crabs (they look like dungeness crabs) were everywhere -- under chairs, on trees, etc. -- driven out of their usual homes by the storm. Boats were blown 3 blocks inland.

We were finally able to leave a week after the storm on a red cross flight. I'll never forget the flight -- as we were boarding, the music was "Don't Worry - Be Happy". "

--Monica

"When Hurricane Gilbert smashed into Jamaica, my wife of about 12 hours and I had arrived on our honeymoon the evening before to the Sandals Caribbean Resort in Montego Bay. I was an FAA Air Traffic Controller and Pilot in Los Angeles, and the weather “experts” at my air traffic facility had told me before we left that “These storms almost always miss Jamaica, so no problem, mon”. What a bunch of slackers.

As we were checking-in to the resort, military and consulate personnel arrived and told everyone to board buses for evacuation to the Wyndham Hotel, an 8-story concrete structure on the beach a few miles away (the Sandals resort was constructed mostly of wood). I casually gave a business card to a consulate official, volunteering my assistance if needed. I did not seriously expect them to take me up on it.

We evacuated to the Wyndham and the storm began to hit late in the evening, as I recall. The hotel had two towers on each end, and a long corridor with floor-to-ceiling windows connecting the two towers. They taped the all windows with duct tape and wisely told everyone to stay out of there.

We all sheltered in the hotel’s basement bar as the hurricane grew to full intensity. It was almost surreal. Everyone was partying and smoking like crazy, music blaring. There were full cases of Red Stripe beer free for the asking at the bar. We met a very cool couple (also newlyweds) from Edinburgh, Scotland, and hung out with them. We’ve been great friends ever since.

We would occasionally take a break from the party and creep up to the top of the stairs to peek around the corner through the corridor windows to see palm trees bent completely horizontal, and all kinds of stuff flying through the air. It looked like a horizontal torrential downpour coming off the ocean, as if driven by a gargantuan jet engine. We saw the water in the hotel swimming pool sucked out in a matter of a few minutes, and a medium-sized private boat tumbled end-over-end across the beach and smashed through the trees as if it was made of Styrofoam. It kept rolling out of sight. I’ve never seen anything like it. The corridor windows were bulging in at an impossible angle and the sound of the wind howling through the seams was almost deafening.

At some point, all the windows instantly exploded inward. In the blink of an eye, thousands of dagger-like shards of glass were embedded in the opposite wall with such force that some actually went all the way through to the outside. Anyone in that hallway would have been mincemeat. It sounded like a bomb going off, and the four or five of us morons at the top of the stairs were showered with tiny bits of glass and sparks from the severed electrical wiring in the corridor. We all tumbled down to the bar floor in a big pile, but no one was seriously hurt (thank you, Red Stripe Beer). After recovering from the shock, everyone just laughed and drank more beer with a wind between 170 and 200 mph screaming through the stairway entrance to the bar. Eventually, the power went out and the sparks stopped. It was all really weird, now that I think about it.

We stayed in the bar all night, partying like heathens the whole time. People from all over the world were passed out everywhere in various states of dress. The next morning, things had settled down a fair amount outside. At some point, my Scotsman buddy nudged me awake (I was crashed face-down on the bar, I think) and pointed to the top of the stairs. A group of very sober looking Jamaican soldiers in camouflage fatigues and web gear with automatic weapons at the ready, were standing there surrounding a distinguished looking middle-aged man in an almost blindingly white linen, 3-peice suit. Through the haze of my bloodshot eyes and wicked hangover, he reminded me of Ricardo Montalban on the old TV show, “Fantasy Island”, silhouetted in the cursed daylight now streaming through the corridor above.

This ominous group came down the stairs without a word, looking slowly around as if seeking someone. The bar was filled with groans as drunken started stirring and talking. They walked directly up to my table, and without any preliminaries or introduction, Mr. White Suit asked, “Are you (my name), the American Air Traffic Controller?” The place went dead silent, and my wife looked as if she was going to throw up. I croaked out something like, “Who wants to know, and why?” With my business card in-hand, he introduced himself as an embassy official and said that my services were required at Montego Bay’s airport, which had been severely damaged by the storm. He finished by saying, “Please come with us now”, and it was clear that this was not a “request”. I looked at my Wife, whose eyes were as big as saucers, kissed her goodbye, asked my Scottish friends to take care of her until I returned, and we got into a jeep and headed for the airport about 5 miles away.

The scene enroute was something I’ll never forget. The place was just devastated. Every visible structure was flattened, and there were hordes of homeless Jamaicans milling around everywhere. When we got to the airport, there were airplanes large and small, upside down, in trees and twisted or stacked atop each other in every conceivable shape. I was taken to the now windowless Control Tower and introduced to the Manager, a Jamaican whose name was Patrick. He told me that most of his staff was in Kingston on vacation, that they were completely understaffed, and that all of their long-range radio transmitters and aircraft navigation facilities had been destroyed. He asked for my advice and we began to develop a plan to setup relief flights from the U. S. and elsewhere. I vaguely remembered something about meeting another American who said he was a Ham radio operator in the bar the previous night. We sent soldiers back to try to find him and determine if he had a radio. A few hours later to my delight, the soldiers brought him to the Tower, with his precious short-wave radio.

We strung a wire antenna from the top of the Tower to the ground, and began trying to contact someone in the U. S. We finally got someone in South Carolina, I think, and after some understandable skepticism on his part, convinced him that this was not a prank and that we really needed his help. He called my Air Traffic Facility in LA and patched us through on the phone. Unfortunately, one of our most dense FAA managers answered the phone, and it took another 20 minutes or so of haggling with this genius to get him to understand who and where I was and what had happened. To make a long story short, they eventually got us in touch by shortwave with Miami Air Traffic Control Center, and thus began a completely improvised and mostly not-by-the-book air traffic control system to sequence disaster relief flights into Jamaica. These were mostly military transports and larger business jets. We also worked with Havana Air Traffic Control Center, which I thought was kinda cool at the time.

At some point, we decided that I would take a recon flight around the area to assess airport conditions and determine if any electronic air navigational facilities were still operational. It took about 2 hours of driving around to locate a light aircraft (a Cessna 210 Centurion) that was in a metal hangar and did not appear to be significantly damaged. I did my preflight inspection, and everything seemed fine, so I fired her up and taxied out to the runway, dodging airplane piles of parts, debris and twisted airplane wrecks. A Jamaican Army Officer accompanied me in co-pilot’s seat. We did a slow taxi down the runway to see if it was clear enough to actually take off, and we had soldiers clear away some of the larger debris until it looked doable. I lined up at the end of the runway and firewalled the throttle. Everything was OK until I tried to rotate and lift off. As I pulled the control yoke back, it jammed cold at about half nose-up travel and would not budge except in roll (left and right). We were just getting airborne, probably about 80 mph at this point. With my heart in my throat, I yanked the throttle closed, and we slammed back onto the runway from about 10 feet up and made several big, porpoising bounces before finally settling down. My Jamaican friend in the right seat looked like he’d seen a ghost, and bit his lip so hard that it bled profusely. I tried to act cool, like it was no big deal, until I noticed how much my hand was shaking as I tried to give him a reassuring pat him on the shoulder. I can only assume that the storm had damaged the controls or cables without it being obvious on the ground. We eventually did manage to find another aircraft and I made an hour-long flight, but my Jamaican Officer friend declined to ride along this time for some reason. 

Anyway, I spent the next several days at the Tower, working inbound and outbound relief flights, and talking to the Tower from the hotel by handheld radio at night. Therein lays another amusing story. In order to achieve line-of-sight contact with the Tower which was 5 miles away, I had to go up onto the roof of the 8-story hotel. The elevators were out, so it was quite a climb up the stairs. One night as I was yakking with the Tower from the roof, I inadvertently backed into one of those needle-like lightning rods, which punctured my left buttocks, and very nearly sent me over the side of the roof as a result of my cursing and flailing about. After that, I stayed close to the center of the roof.

At the end of my adventure, then Prime Minister of Jamaica Edward Seaga came to Montego Tower and presented me with a beautiful written, personally signed letter of thanks from the Jamaican government. On my final trip from the airport, I saw a tattered American Flag still hanging from the pole in front of the Embassy. I snuck out and reeled it down. I still have it. My wife and I said goodbye to our new friends, and departed for Miami on the first available flight. The plane smelled like a pig sty (as I probably did as well). We got back to California, and it all seemed like a dream.

So, that is my story about Hurricane Gilbert."

--Anonymous

"My new bride and I arrived in Cozumel for our honeymoon on Saturday the 10th of September, 1988. We were staying at the Mayan Plaza north of the town. IT was a beautiful place. A sunken open-air lobby with lush potted plants everywhere. . . There was a big thatch roof dining room, a nice pool, and the veranda led down two or three steps onto a beautiful stretch of beach. We had a wonderful room on the top floor (14th) with a beautiful view of the sea. The hallway outside our room was more or less a balcony, open to the air and overlooking the jungle to the east. Nice place for a honeymoon.

We took a bus tour on Sunday, and had such a good time, that we decided to rent a car the next day and drive around the island, visit the beaches, have a picnic, and do honeymoon-type stuff. So Monday morning I was waiting in line to rent a car down near the lobby when I heard someone said to another person, "I'm not sure I should rent a car with the storm coming. " I turned around and asked, "What storm?"

I had no idea. . .

On Monday afternoon, there was a meeting in the lobby to decide how to proceed. As the Mayan Plaza was the newest of the hotels in the area, two nearby hotels evacuated into ours, so we had extra guests. It was decided to go down into the tunnels under the hotel (normally used by the staff) for the night. In case the basement started flooding, the stairway landings were each equipped with a few mattresses and the doors barricaded shut from the landing side. The entire group of about 150 people was divided into groups of 10 or so and a leader selected to be responsible for each group. I volunteered and was given the 6th floor landing as my group's destination in case of flooding.

That afternoon, I saw workers up on ladders cutting the coconuts off the palm trees and wondered why they would go to the trouble of saving those coconuts. Surely there was more important work to do. It wasn't until very early the next morning when I saw a coconut fly through the hotel lobby at about 100 mph that I understood why they had gone to the trouble of cutting them down.

Sue and I had what turned out to be our last nice dinner for several days in the thatched dining room as the wind picked up outside and the hotel staff put all the tables and chairs into the cinderblock back room.

We went underground later that evening. I stayed awake all night walking up and down keeping candles lit and generally trying to make myself useful. AT about 2:00 in the morning we started hearing the windows in the hotel above us bursting, one by one and in groups, and water started coming into the basement. At about 6:00 I went up above ground and stood in the lee of one of the walls of what used to be the sunken lobby, now full of shredded vegetation and muddy water. Looking out to the grounds, I could see that the pool was full of trees, the dining room was collapsed, and the sea seemed a lot closer. Many of the hotel staff were up there, looking calm and smoking cigarettes. Somewhere during this time I saw that coconut fly through the lobby.

After I went back down, the water was about half-calf depth and we led our groups hand-in-hand through the dark tunnels to the stairwell. I led my group up to our designated place on teh 6th floor. Water was pouring down the stairway and the mattresses we had put there were mostly soaked. But there was a little window where we could see some daylight which was nice to see after the darkness of the basement.

There was a really loud and repetitive banging noise just outside our door which was absolutely maddening. None of us could figure out what it was. We found out later that it was the door to one of those fire-extinguisher wall units banging around in the wind.

I think the eye of the storm went right over us late in the morning, because the wind died down. Or course, we didn't realize that it was only the eye. We thought the storm was over and everyone shared a sense of relief that it was over. The wind died down enough for me to go up on the roof and look out to sea. A concrete pier which had stood a bit to the south was gone--washed away by the huge gray waves which were now battering the shore. The jungle to the east had been stripped of most of its leaves, and was left a bare woody tangle.

The wind picked up again, much to our chagrin, I went back down, and that damn banging outside the door began with new urgency. At about 3:00, everybody had about had it, and, without discussing it, began taking down the barricade to let ourselves out of the stairway and onto the hotel's open air hallways.

Once we were through, the first thing one of the men did--a big strong fellow--was to turn and rip that fire extinguisher door right off its frame and throw it off the balcony.

Sue and I made our way to our room and found that we could not open the door because of the air pressure on the other side. This confirmed that our windows were gone. Another fellow helped me. We threw our shoulders against it and made our way in.

The sliders on the balcony were all broken and that end of the room was broken glass and soaked carpet. Later inspection showed that the entire frame of the sliding doors bowed about 2 inches toward the room before it blew the glass out.

But we were lucky. Being directly under the roof, the only water we had in our room was from the balcony and the broken slider. All floors under us had water from the broken sliders, but also soaked through the floor from the rooms above. First floor rooms had plaster coming off the ceilings and every square inch soaked.

We slept from late that afternoon to early the next morning, when I went down to look around. The steps that had led from the veranda to the beach now led to a five foot vertical drop to coral--all the sand was swept out to sea. Fallen palm trees with their roots entirely exposed lay on the coral amidst a litter of conch shells. One of the neighboring hotels had one corner ripped open exposing a couple of rooms.

But by then the sky was clear, the sea was calm and crystalline. . .

I broke a toe later that morning on the newly exposed coral as I tried to wash off 36 hours of grime and adrenaline in the sea. So after that Sue had to run up and down the stairs to get anything we needed. We ate emergency canned cheese and canned bread for the next couple of days, until we got a ride into Cozumel with a fellow who had found a rental jeep in the hotel lot that happened to have the keys in it.

The road had a foot of water standing in it, the power poles leaned over at alarming angles, and the power lines themselves laying in the water and mud beside the road, useless and powerless.

Because the restaurants had lost their refrigeration, they were doing a brisk business, getting rid of their stock as fast as they could. We had a wonderful meal cooked on Sterno and eaten by candlelight, sharing stories with other tourists as we relished getting through it in one piece.

But the next several nights were more beautiful than I had ever seen before. The stars were bright, and there was not an electric light anywhere on the island, nor from Playa del Carmen all the way up the coast to Cancun. And since we had nothing else to do, we looked at the sky and chatted to other people.

In the days after the hurricane, the Mexican Army showed up to prevent looting, a cruise ship steamed in, tied up at the pier, and let anyone who desired use their radio phone to call home. There were long lines everywhere to do everything--but everyone was patient and kind to each other. We went snorkeling near our hotel in a coral pool that Gilbert had newly cleared of sand, and though we had roommates for the remainder of our honeymoon (a couple whose room was more completely destroyed than ours), they were very pleasant people, and made enjoyable company.

As a honeymoon, it was not the most successful. But it showed me that my new bride was tough and resourceful in the face of adversity, and I felt very proud of her. And it showed that people do indeed pull together in a crisis, which was encouraging as well. \

And, perhaps best of all, it provided me with a better honeymoon story than anyone else I know!"

--Will

"I was Living in Port Antonio Jamaica at the time Gilbet came. We Lived on a hill and thank goodness we had our roofs redone a few months before. Our house had burglar bars so there was no need for boarding up. The winds progressively gain stregnth from the day before land fall. Knowing Jmaica is an island we had nowhere to run so we bunkered down in our homes my mother in hers and me in mine.

I had to chase one of the dogs (whos terrified of any storms) so I could pen him up in the laundry room for safety. at this point I chased him back behind my house where we have some banana trees which strted falling which blocked the dog so I could get him. By the time I got him to the laundry room I could literally lean into the wind and it held me up. . . thats when a piece of zinc roofing flew by me from someines dwelling up the hill and I knew it was time to go in. Port Antonio is on the NE coast and Gilbert came in from the east and all the debris and blown folliage went toward the side of my house.

The sea is about 1/2 mile from us we had an ocean view and the waves looked like Hawaii 5 0 from my window and sea spray was misting throught my slated windows. My mother had installed a satelite dish ( in thosae days they were huge) on a cement tower foundation between our houses I looked out my kitchen window and saw it floopping and spinning like a toy top. I was wondering if it was going to fly off into the house. I had blocked my french doors with a huge full china cabinet and all of a sudden I heard this scraping sound across my kitchen floor and the wins whipping. My french doors faced the sea (N) and I went into the dining room and saw not only did the wind blow open locked french doors but also had blown the china cabinet acroos the room. Inbetween gusts I shoved the cabinet back up against the doors just as another gust hit and oinned my arm between the doors and the cabinet( thankfully no bones broken but it did scrape some skin off my arm and I still have the battle scars. Finally I was able to settle down and ride out the rest of the storm.

The most bizzarre thing was how the storm ended. All of a sudden it went from ballistic winds to dead silence as if someone turrned a switch off. So I was thinking maybe this was the yey of the storm and peeked my head out to look. I went back in and waited for the other end to start and it didn't. I found out later this was because it ahd turned toward Kingston which is south of us. That explained why my doors got blown open. . it was when the storm shifted direction.

I came outside and looked at the damage around me. . . . . my house was fine but I could see trees and pieces of others homes(many were shacks to begin with) . . and I thought to myself wow I survived a Hurricane my 1st one(not to be the last)

I think the hardest part of the aftermath was the fact we had no power or water for near 2 months. Florida Power and Light came to Jamaica to help repair and make the electrical system more sturdy. The relief that came was sporadic and Bizzarre. many of the donated cots and blankets were stolen off of the wharf whereas Budweiser was plentyful in a country that exports their own beer (Red Stripe) I will say this on the positive side of Gilbert. . . Jamaica started getting a little more modernized since that storm due to the help from the States, Canada and others.

Going through Hurricane gilbert was an awsome experience in the sense of witnessing the power that nature has over us. Many here in the US don't realize how big of a storm Gilbert was and it got worse after it left Jamaica.

I have also been through Hurricane Andrew but I was on the west coast of Fla and I had the advantage over the rest of my family of knowing how to prepare for the storm after gilbert.

I just want to emphasize a VERY important point. . . if they recommend you to evacuate please please DO IT!!! even if the storm seems to be changing it's course it is better to be safe than soory . . . just ask those in Punta Gorda, Ft Myers and Pt Charlotte after Hurricane Charlie."

--Tickie

"I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Gilbert was headed right for us, so we were ordered to evacuate. As we all marched inland to a shelter, I could see every cloud in the sky was headed out to see and converging in a single point. It was raining, and as I licked my lips, I discovered it was raining salt water! It was pretty ominous. But amazingly, this huge storm petered out into nothing just before it was due to make landfall! Anticlimactic."

--Travis Fields

"I was in Port Antonio, Jamaica, with a mission team from Auburn University, Alabama when Hurricane Gilbert hit. We first heard about the storm from family members back home, but no one had any clue just how serious it was. Even the Jamaicans were not serious about it, telling us that the "big wind" never hits their island and not to worry. I remember believing them, and remembering how I had been through Eloise in '75, and therefore not being too overly concerned. Until, that is, the day before the storm hit. We were walking from our hotel to the church building and noticed that a stream had actually changed directions and was flowing the opposite way. Then I began to feel unsettled.

My memories of the storm itself are vague, it was such a horrific experience that I think I have shut most of it out of my mind. I can't even remember what time of day it hit. We were staying in the DeMontevin Hotel, which is a 100+ year old hotel in Port Antonio. Our team filled the entire place. There was no one there to tell a bunch of college students about storm safety, so of course we were all over the place and on the balconies watching the storm move in. We watched the surf become violent, we watched the palm trees bending way over, we began to see pieces of tin flying through the air (which we later realized were parts of people's roofs!). We took lots of pictures. When we began to feel the hotel shake and sway in the wind, we headed downstairs. The roof began to leak. I remember opening my closet door and seeing it raining inside the closet. The power went out. In the hotel lobby some were playing cards, some were huddled in the stairwell, but our campus minister who was our team leader was withdrawn and very contemplative.

He was realizing the devastation that we were about to discover, and thinking about his wife and new baby back home in Auburn. When the storm finally ended our hotel was still standing but there was devastation all over Jamaica. Our hotel had no power or water. I remember taking buckets down to the water's edge, filling them, and pouring them into all the hotel toilets to flush them. For several nights we continued to have heavy rain and storms, and it was just terrifying to lie there in the pitch dark and hear that howling wind over and over.

The focus of our team changed from Bible studies to doing whatever we could to help the Jamaicans. We split up into groups and went out and made contacts with all the people we had met through our door knocking, and one by one we helped them clean up and re-build. What a wonderful outreach it turned out to be. I don't remember what day we were supposed to fly out originally, and I don't remember what day we were finally able to fly out, but I do know it was at least 4 days extra that we were "stranded" in Jamaica. During that time we were on again/off again with a flight. Finally I think we heard there was a possibility of getting on a flight, so we just packed up and drove Kingston. What a drive! On a good day it was a rough ride, after Gilbert it was almost impassable. It took forever to get there. We saw so much destruction. The airport had been hit hard as well. Mangled planes were strewn on the runway.

The airport was a mess, their bathrooms were the worst I'd seen yet! We sat several hours on the floor in the airport with all our luggage before we finally got word that we were to fly out. When we finally got back to Auburn, we all bent down and kissed the ground. Of course, we took a picture. Hurricane Gilbert is one storm I will never forget."

--Amy

"I was 15 the night Girlbert passed 200 miles south of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Because the city was at a safe distance, nobody was really worried. But that night was really scary. The winds blew really hard. To the point I thought my room's windows were going to blow up anytime. A giant tree at the neighbors was floored and my parents had this big satellite dish that was making the most horrible noise I've ever heard. Afraid the roof of the house was going to go with the satellite dish, they set it loose and it started spinning like crazy. Pointless to say that dish never worked again. I'd say the wind gusts that night were at least 100mph. I can't imagine what would have happened if we got a direct hit. "

--Harry

"Gilbert…lol. 9/12 in Jamaica. I have just four (4) very clear memories of Gilbert.

1. Wind and more wind. I spent most of the hurricane's duration on my verandah (porch, and just watching the coconut, mango and all the other trees fighting the wind (some were victorious some were not) brought me to the realization that this was a very powerful natural phenomenon, bigger than man. Respect is due.

2. The swiftness and silence with which Gilbert casued damage. One minute the big breadfruit tree in our backyard was standing, the next thing you know is that the place seems brighter and when you run to the back door you can’t open it or any of the back windows because the breadfruit tree is lying on the ground and its branches are braced against the full length of the back of the house. Well, in the event of an emergency evacuation, it would have to be the front entrance, the back one was definitely out of commission.

3. The eye arrived and immediately the banging began. A loud oppressive bang all around arose as people got busy trying to reattach loose roofing. Concrete blocks, large stones, sheets of lumber, large tree limbs, old tires, just anything to keep the roof down. Many houses lost their entire roofs in Gilbert. “Oonu se mi dish. Anybody, oonu se mi satellite dish” Many a satellite “dish ran away with the spoon” but no dogs were laughing. Extracts from a local hit by a local artist, Lovindeer.

4. No light, no water, no telephone, no exams, no school, no ice, no bread, corned beef, corned beef and more corned beef."

--Whew! - Amen

"My wife and I landed in Cancun on Sept. 12 for our honeymoon. Almost immediately upon checking into th Camino Real, we started getting printed bulletins from the hotel about the hurricane. We didn't have to evacuate, then we did. On the 14th we all loaded onto a bus and were taken to a cooking school. And this is where we stayed for the next few days. It was the most intense period one could possible imagine.

I don't remember sleeping. We lived on warm coronas and Nestles bars for two days. When we finally got back to the hotel, the beaches were destroyed along with the piers and the hotel rooms which faced the gulf. The hotel was great to us until we left. We got back to the US only to find out that my father had a heart attack on the 14th. I never saw him again. The greatest day of my life was just a prelude to the worst week of my life."

--Frankie C

"I was in Cozumel on holiday. Many people were evacuated, but there were only so many planes.

Another person at the hotel was an architect, and he carefully looked the place over. He said it was the most strongly built building he'd ever seen. Foundations right down into the coral, massive steel-reinforced concrete walls, storm-proof glass windows on rubber bushes, the whole works.

We retired to our room on the second floor in the main body of the hotel (it also had two wings extending towards the water). For several hours the wind came towards the back of the hotel, which only had slatted windows in the bathrooms. We could lie on the floor and look out of the door towards the sea and watch waves higher then the hotel breaking. The waves out in the channel looked the size of skyscrapers. There'd be occasional ones that we could see miles off towering over the rest. The most awesome sight I've ever seen.

I noticed that the palm trees just lost their leaves and laid flat on the ground - deciduous trees were just ripped out by the roots.

At about midnight the winds came around to the front and the door blew in. We had the mattress over the windows, but that survived (unlike some other rooms).

There was rain and seawater blowing in through the door, so we moved the bedclothes into the bath. I laid on the floor, wedged my shoulders against the opposite wall, and with my feet managed to shut the bathroom door (I'm a pretty strong guy, and I was very fit then, but it was one of the hardest physical tasks I've ever done). Two minutes later the whole doorframe exploded into the room.

The eye of the storm came right overhead. There was a long period of calm before the hurricane resumed its attempt to tear the building down.

Afterwards, the hotel staff were amazing. They (and we) just cleaned up and moved on. We ate whatever shellfish the staff could catch, plus canned stuff etc. It was fine.

We lost the restaurant and both bars in the storm (in the seaward wings of the hotel) but, luckily, the british had moved the beer to higher ground the night before. . . "

--Jacqui or (maybe) Pete

"My husband and I experienced our honeymoon in Cancun during Hurricane Gilbert. We were evacuated along with 5 busloads of tourists to a small 40 room hotel in the city of Cancun, where we competed to find another room to share with 8 other couples. We were lucky, since the other people from the bus brigade camped out on the marble hallways of the hotel. The storm hit in the middle of the night, the antenna on the top of the hotel crashed into the stairwell windows.

The wind sounded more like a freight train for most of the night. All power and water ceased by then, and after the storm left, we were stuck in this hotel for 48 hours, served cold cereal with powdered milk mixed with the pool water. The Mexican army occupied the resort area of the island, preventing anyone from returning to the hotel until 2 days later. When we returned to our hotel room, our room's one side wall was IN the next room, and much of everything was rainsoaked. We were able to get out of Cancun at the end of the week, and of course our luggage went to Guadalahara instead of of Philadelphia! 1988 things were different - if that happened today, I am sure we would have been notified to get OUT of the country before the storm hit."

--Catherine from NJ

"I Visited Cozumel on vacation in Sept. '88. Stayed at the Sol Caribe Hotel. The hurricane came up very fast. Could not hardly get any news. The satelite TV in the Hotel played mainly the TNN channel. Even the day before it struck some airlines were actually bringing passengers into Cozumel.

All the guests were gathered in the hotel main meeting room on pool furniture. The hurricane came over during the early morning of September 14. Obviously no one slept. We knew we were in trouble when the hotel employee in charge wanted to see a show of hands as to who could not swim!!!

The wind and rain were horrible. I saw a flat bed truck loaded with building materials literally lift up during the worst of it. Parts of the ground floor where we were flooded and toilets backed up. Finally in the early afternoon of the next day it started to clear. Part of the hotel had been destroyed. Nothing was left but the steel frame.

Went into town a few times to buy supplies. The locals were getting a bit testy since the "Yankees" had all the money and were buying everything in site. My girlfriend had diabetes and she needed a sugar fix sometimes. We finally were able to contact the states using a ship to shore telephone on one of the fishing boats that had ridden the storm out.

The wind and waves had washed all the beach sand onto the roadway. The former beach was now just raw jagged coral. There was much damage to the town but not as much as we thought there would be. Fortunately we were on the western side of the island facing Cancun on the mainland and were sparred any storm surge from the east.

Since we were at a hotel we had plenty to eat. Near the end we ran out of bottled water. The only thing left to drink was hot Corona beer and that is really nasty.

The airport was closed and the control tower was on the ground. It took about 5 days to get out of there. Even then the planes had to land under visual flight rules as there was no radar. Finally landed in Atlanta. Were met by friends, hugged, and then pushed away. No baths in a week. Cannot blame them. "

--Anonymous

"I had been living in Cancun about three weeks when one night I went out to eat tacos and overheard on the telvision that there was a hurricane in the atlantic headed our way . It was tuesday Sept 13th and we had a few hours left before it was to hit . My most vivid memory comes from the next few days as I worked as a waitress in a pizza restaurant for a friend in the hotel zone who had jimmyrigged his boat to feed power to his restaurant . I heard stories from people(lots of honeymooners) who had had flown in about the same time of night that I saw the news on tuesday.

Obviously in the United states they knew about storm but neither airlines or travel agents advised their customers. I was completely amazed by the lack of notice given to anyone, americans and mexicans and very suprised there werent more deaths. I recently lived thru Hurricane Isidore 2001 in Merida which is about 3 hours from Cancun and was suprised again by the lack of notice. Seems they learned there lesson tho finally when this year Ivan threatened us everyone was well prepared and evacuated from port towns the day before."

--Anonymous

"This was written by Mr Jack Todd on the 16th Septembre 1988. Sadly he passed away in hospital days after the incident:

A few nights ago we were told to evacuate our small town of Intonaisia. My friends and family left our small town to flee to Texas where they were safe from danger. I wanted to stay though. Everyone thought I was mad but I told them not to worry and leave. I wanted to see the hurricane and I am getting old so I probably not going to get the chance again. I stayed in my cellar waiting for the hurricane to hit. I was waiting for 14 hours for it. I sat on my chair just waiting. When suddenly I heard a woman screaming. I heard a large banging noise and then it went completely noisy. The noise was unbearable. It was at this moment I started regretting staying. I was frozen with fright. I dropped to the floor and hid under a table. I could hear my unstairs being ripped apart. Windows were smashing and furniture was blowing everywhere. My roof caved ontop of me and that was all I can remember. I woke up in a hospital bed the next day. I am wounded but much smarter. I am glad I made it."

--Mr Tom Todd

"My husband and I affectionately refer to Hurricane Gilbert as Honeymoon Gilbert! We spent our honeymoon on the Island of Jamaica. After an exhausting wedding, we slept most of Sunday and the hurricane hit on Monday. I have to say that I will never forget the hospitality extended to us all by the resort workers.

Many lost family members and their homes were destroyed. But they treated us all like kings and queens, actually coming around to the rooms and playing music for us and bringing us buckets of beer and wine to drink. Many of the activities, including that beautiful blue Carribean water, were unavailable to us that week, but the "natives" were simply wonderful. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of Couples Resort for making an almost unbearable situation comfortable and fun, despite the devastation that surrounded us."

--Anonymous

"I was 5 years old and I rememeber it clearly. I lived in Jamaica at the time and it was my first hurricane. We lived in a wooden home/cabin with zinc roofs on one end and a semi-concrete on the other. The yard was littered with large fruit trees and we did not bother to cut them as we did not know how to prepare for a hurricane. By the time the Gilbert set in, it was past my bedtime but I could not sleep. The house rocked and the wind howled. A few hours later, I heard my parents scream from upstairs. Their roof had collapsed on their bed while they were sleeping and now the water and coconuts were finding their way through the hole.

They came downstairs to bunk with my brother and myself after they secured their room to make sure that they water found an alternate route out. After about three hours the downstairs was about 2 feet deep in water and we had nowhere else to go. We saw zinc sheets leaving the roofs like flying saucers and trimming the fruit trees with ease and fruits were like missiles flying into the windows of the cars, tractors and house.

After all was said and done the yard was under 3 and a half feet of water, all our fruit trees were now bare and shrubs, and our home was no longer liveable. We lost a lot but I'm greatful to God we made it through alive. We had one window to see through during the hurricane and it looked and sounded like armaggedon. . . only without the brimstone and fire."

--Lisa220


 

DISASTER DETAILS

Here is the track Hurricane Gilbert took.

Courtesy of NOAA

Date(s): September 10-17, 1988

Location: Caribbean & Gulf of Mexico

Deaths: 318

Injuries: 

Damage: $7B+


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