21 September, 1988
‘Thought We Were Going To Die,’ Jamaica Tourist Relates After Hurricane
By Kathie Flannery
PRINCETON — The perfect honeymoon — tropical winds of only 116 mph — romantic quarters with 106 evacuees jammed into a cocktail lounge — and the beet cuisine of crackers and soda. Borough Councilman Mark Freda, and his new bride, Beth Ogilvie, flew to Jamaica on Sunday looking forward to a week-long honeymoon in the tropical paradise.
Unfortunately, the tropical paradise turned into a tropical storm, a hurricane that destroyed the Sandals Hotel in Montego Bay where the Freda’s were staying less than 48 hours after they arrived.
“It sounded like a monster roaring … like someone trying to get in,” said Sandy Hopkins of West Trenton, who was also vacationing at Sandals with her husband and three other couples. Three days after her return, she said she can still hear the roar when she said.
Hopkins said that she couldn’t take her eyes off the glass doors in the Holiday Inn foyer where part of the group from Sandals had been taken. Although the doors were chained shut and barricaded with large potted plants, by the end of five and a half hours of storm, Hopkins said the hinges on the doom were beginning to come loose.
If the doors blew, everyone would be sucked out into the storm by the force, mid Hopkins. We really thought we were going to die.’
For four nights the Fredtui and Hopkinsea along with the other evacuees slept on the floor or the chairs in the recreation room of the Holiday Inn. The floors and chairs were soaking wet and stinking of mildew. Alternating power only allowed the lights or fans to be on, never both.
After the first day, food and drinks were served on a regular basis from food salvaged from Sandals plus the supply at the Holiday Inn, but some of the guests were beginning to take ill from bug bites and contaminated water, said Hopkins.
For four days, everyone was out of touch with the states. Rumors had circulated that some Americans had died and the relatives at home began to panic, at least Freda’s mother Ann Freda did. But others used a little creativity, such as Hopkins’ 18- year-old son who had a ham radio operator get a message to his parents.
Freda said that the scariest part was while they were waiting in the lobby of Sandals to be taken by bus or car to the Holiday Inn. He said he could “hear parts of the building being ripped off and see parts of the roof coming down.”
Just as amazing as the strength of the storm, according to both the Freda’s and the Hopkinses, was that the planes were still bringing in the tourists on Sunday night.
But Air Jamaica representative Bernard Payne said that they only flew in until they no longer considered it safe for passenger travel. When the planes were flown off of the island to protect them from the storm, an extra stop was made at Kingston to pick up as many passengers 05 possible, he said.
On the other hand, both couples said they were extremely pleased with the way the staff handled the evacuation. The customers were informed of the storm’s progress at regular intervals and all of the customers belongings that were left in the hotel were returned.
Hopkins said she left the room with nothing but pants, pajamas and toothbrushes and had every item returned — including the money in her wallet. She said that the staff returned twice to the destroyed Sandals to retrieve missing articles and even went so far as to search the room for money her husband had hidden.
In return, the evacuees $840 to help the employees who live in Jamaica. For anyone who would like to donate clothing, food or any nonperishable items, address the items to the entertainment director of “Couples,” do Louis Clayton, P.O. Boo 330, Ochorios, Jamaica.
Trentonian Photo by EMMA LEE
SHOW AND TELL — Sandy Hopkins of West Trenton shows off her “I Survived Gilbert” T-shirt after returning from a nightmarish Jamaica vacation with her husband