By Robert A Emmanuel
As the billowing wind, torrents of rain and streaks of lightning barrelled across the country, businesses and residents were left assessing the damage caused by Tropical Storm Philippe after it made landfall in Antigua and Barbuda between Monday evening and the early hours of Tuesday.
At the Antigua Yacht Club Marina, business owners and employees were left in complete dismay with several businesses destroyed by a fire in the midst of the storm.
Skullduggery’s Café, the Antigua Yacht Club Gym, Turtles Surf, the marina office, Axxess Marine, the Sea Breeze Café, Dockside Liquors and Supermarket, Cloggy’s restaurant, and BWA Yachting Ltd were among the list of businesses which, just weeks before the tourism season reopens, went up in flames.
Many of the business owners were visibly distraught and in shock, comforted by family, friends and general well-wishers.
On Facebook, Cloggy’s wrote: “19 years went tonight up in flames… nobody got injured… we are down but will be back!”
Adam Kirby, brother of Turtles Surf owner Adrian Kirby, wrote: “My brother and I are absolutely devastated after losing Turtles Surf shop last night!
“I’ve watched my brother work so hard, clawing tooth and nail for 30 years of his life, as a quadriplegic, from a wheelchair, to open and run this business! All gone!! Absolutely gutted! Where do we go from here.”
Fire service personnel were still fighting the last embers until after 1pm yesterday, as it took nearly 10 officers and four fire tenders to handle the blaze.
Dockmaster Tommy Patterson told Observer media that nothing was able to be salvaged from the blaze but that he believed all businesses were insured.
He emphasised his shock at the amount of lightning that could be seen in the English Harbour area, stating that “he had never seen lightning like that in the other storms we ever had”. Patterson pledged the area would be rebuilt “better than ever”.
Up to news time, fire officials were still investigating the cause of the blaze.
An official statement from the Falcone family which owns the marina said they were “deeply devastated”.
“Our thoughts are with the affected business owners and their employees during this difficult time.
“Despite this unfortunate incident, we want to assure our valued members, patrons, and the sailing community that the main marina facilities, including diesel, water, electricity, and dockage, remain fully operational. We are committed to providing uninterrupted services to our visitors and guests,” the statement said.
It added that a new location for the office was already being established.
Meanwhile, Observer traversed the island to assess the damage to other businesses and homes by the storm.
With his building covered in blown sand, wooden fixtures uprooted, and a recently built cabana blown onto the rooftop, the owner of the Darkwood Beach Bar and Restaurant, Shelmore George, said the damage wasn’t as bad as he had feared but that it was still shocking to see.
“This place was like, wow, nothing like I expect it to be, but it is not as bad as the previous hurricanes and storms that we have had,” he said.
He said it would take a couple of days to get his operations back up and running in preparation for the tourism season.
“I just got to bring my crew in, and we will do a cleanup—get some sand cleaned off the walls, the chairs, tables and stuff, so probably two to three days and we will get everything back to normal.
Tropical Storm Philippe brought gusty winds and several inches of heavy rainfall.
Over 30 requests for assistance were made from residents who suffered heavy flooding in low-lying areas, some wading through their homes in the midst of the rising water.
“My two rooms, my kitchen, my living room—I have to mop out because when my boy called me last night, everything for me was inna water and ah float,” said a couple of young men in Gray’s Farm.
They noted that the water level was so high it reached knee-level at one point.
“Yeah, with what kind of breeze me ah see last night, it nah feel like no tropical storm,” one of the young men expressed.
Another man and his two sons in the West Palm area, between Jennings and Bolans, were left trying to remove one of their trees which had been damaged by the wind during the storm.
They told Observer they had experienced “not much rain, [but] a lot of wind, and lightning”.
“I expected a lot more rain. I would have liked to get two inches, four inches of rain to help the dams; the only thing that we down here is scared of is the flooding,” the-father-of-two added.
Traversing the roads proved difficult for many vehicles with downed trees, asphalt ripped from the ground and water pools in many areas, particularly in the southern side of the island.
However, Observer met one man who had taken it upon himself to help clean up Valley Road, helping cars move quickly to their destinations.
“I see a lot of debris in the road, and I know it is going to cause an accident because everybody is trying to swerve off and hit a vehicle.
“I have been on the road since after 5[am] and there are a lot of trees that went down Darkwood area so I went down there and cut down the trees and put them on the side of the road so traffic can move in the case of an emergency,” he said.
“In my area, it [the storm] was really strong; I don’t think that that was any normal storm because the winds that was blowing, they were like hurricane-force winds, there was some serious winds blowing,” he added.