Princeton pair endure 5-day wrath of Gilbert

Princeton Packet
20 September, 1988

Princeton pair endure 5-day wrath of Gilbert

By Wendy Plump
Staff Writer

Princeton newlyweds Mark Freda and Beth Ogilvie had a good old time on their honeymoon in Jamaica last week. Their vacation snapshots prove it.

There is a picture of Mark leaning against the withered root of an overturned tree, his feet buried in the rubble that was the Holiday Inn’s roof.

There’s a shot of Beth walking down a sandy beach, the massive, bulging rain clouds of Hurricane Gilbert hanging low on the horizon in front of her.

And there’s a shot of the whole group—all 137 evacuees from another hotel packed into a Holiday Inn lounge that served as their collective hotel room for five dank days.

Seems Mr. Freda, 32, who is a Princeton Borough councilman, and Ms. Ogilvie, 24, arrived in Jamaica about a week ago just in time for the storm of a century.

Hurricane Gilbert slammed into the West Indies island Sept. 12, decimating homes and hotels. It left an estimated 500,000 homeless and over 20 Jamaicans dead.

Mr. Freda and Ms. Ogilvie, who arrived safely in Princeton Saturday, described hearing the hotel crashing down around them and sharing living quarters — minus showers and mattresses — with tourists, cockroaches and an uncivil hotel manager.

“You just didn’t know what was going to cave in next, or where was the safest place to be,” said Ms. Ogilvie. “One of the scariest things was the noise, everything crashing around you.”

Shortly after their arrival at the Sandals Hotel in Montego Bay Sunday Sept. 11, Mr. Freda and Ms. Ogilvie were treated to cocktails and three meetings to discuss the imminent stoma.

The next morning, they were evacuated to a nearby Holiday Inn, riding the distance in a car because Ms. Ogilvie did not trust the wobbling buses requisitioned for evacuations. Turns out one of them was clobbered with a telephone pole.

Sandals guests were transferred as the calm eye of the hurricane moved over the island, but even at that early point the force of the storm was evident, the couple agreed. “There were trees down, wires and poles down. A lot of the housing that had tin roofing was already lying in heaps,” said Mr. Freda, searching through the slack of photographs on his living room.table for illustration. The tail of the hurricane ripped through Montego Bay later that afternoon. From inside the Holiday Inn, Mr. Freda and Ms. Ogilvie watched. Their vantage point changed as often as flying glass or slipping tiles dictated, the couple recalled.

“At one point, the ceiling above us started to buckle and there were tiles falling down,” said Mr. Freda. “A full-size suburban has out front was tilting back and forth at a 45-degree angle.

“The sky was very, very dark, the water was coming in under the doors, and there were 50-fool palm trees being yanked out of the ground,” he added.

Ms. Ogilvie in particular recalled the double doors to the front lobby, heaving like lungs as the wind whipped through the lobby.

“The manager at the Holiday Inn was nowhere to be seen during the storm. There was no one to take charge and say what part of the building was safe and what part wasn’t,” said Mr. Freda in disgust. “It didn’t annear to us the manager was concerned with the safety of the people. Sandals has meetings about it, but a lot of the guests at the Holiday Inn found out about the storm because who showed up. We just walked into a lounge where they were hanging out playing cards,” he added.

For the next four nights, Mr. Freda and Ms. Ogilvie shared the lounge with other evacuees from Sandals. They slept on the floor amidst a jumble of suitcases, makeshift mats and wet clothing.

“It was damp. There were cockroaches, them was sea salt all over the place,” said Ms. Ogilvie. “The whole thing smelled like a fish market.”

The day after Gilbert struck, the couple ventured outside to find open stores for crackers or soda that could be taken to other guests. The manager at the Holiday Inn refused at first to feed his unexpected guests. Later, an agreement was worked out to bring cooks and salvageable food over from Sandals.

The manager eventually harangued the guests for expecting too much.

“Most of the food was meat and fish, and there was no way to refrigerate it. As the week went on, the food was spicier and spicier, and I’m not sure if that was to cover the real taste,” said Ms. Ogilvie.

Warned not to stray off the pmp-oily because of violent looters the newlyweds wandered during subsequent days near the Holiday Inn, taking photographs of the damage. At night. they waited for the emergency lighting to be switched off by hotel personnel so they could sleep.

And in the early hours — usually around 6 a.m. — the stranded guests would begin waking up via the domino effect: one restless honeymooner after another.

In the words of Ms. Ogilvie, all the days seemed mushed together.”

Finally, on their last night in Jamaica, the newlyweds were given a third-floor hotel room to share, with another couple. The rooms stood across the hall from moms that had no ceilings or walls.

By simple luck — all of it bad —Mr. Freda and Ms. Ogilvie were among the last of the Sandals guests to leave the island, They airplanes out of Jamaica at about 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, arriving in New York several hours later.

Their parents were not there to greet them, but “10,000” television cameras were, the couple recalled.

“We’re exhausted now, but we knew all along that we had a home to go to, which many of the Jamaicans down there did not have,” said Ms. Ogilvie philosophically. “It really puts things in perspective. ”

As bad as it was, you knew you’d be home and living in comfort again soon,”she said pushing the cat off her lap and rising to go and wash yet another load of mildewed laundry.

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