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Robert and Jamaica

My brother-in-law’s eyes glisten, when he describes the ocean views in every direction, from the family’s hilltop home in Jamaica. At every window, you can feel the ocean breeze. Even on the hottest, most humid days.

When Hurricane Andrew struck the Caribbean in August of 1992, the television news media showed shots of that house, being ravaged by the winds and rain. Small sections of the roof being peeled off, and flung away. Closed window shutters being ripped from their hinges, then twirling and hurling through the air.

Miraculously, the huge white stucco house stood unscathed otherwise. Structurally sound. Most of the interior had been left undamaged, except for marred walls. A few pieces of wood furniture were scratched and water damaged. A few dozen earthen floor tiles loosened.

Repairs took time, and cost a small fortune. Most construction materials had to be imported from the mainland. The United States, primarily.

The lost roof sections and window panes were replaced first. Destroyed wood window shutters were replaced. As necessary, interior surfaces and living spaces were repaired and refinished. Uprooted landscaping was replaced.

In 2014, the entire property was restored to its original appearance. Certain “upgrades” were added that featured construction materials and techniques designed to withstand major disaster wind currents, rain, and flooding.

1. A new roof was put on the house and adjacent building. Roof tresses were stapled and tied down with special stabilizers.
2. All windows were replaced with units designed to withstand 250-mph storm winds and gusts.
3. All wood shutters were stripped, refinished and re-installed with solid steel hardware.
4. The exterior surfaces were pressure-washed, with a special compound, then repaired and prepped. An extreme environmental exposure primer sealer was sprayed on. Then, three coats of tropical-formulated paint were brushed, rolled, and sprayed on. Note: Products were heavy-duty. Manufacturer: Sherwin-Williams.
5. All interior painted surfaces were stripped, filled and sanded. Then, three coats of off-white stucco paint were applied, using brushes, rollers and spray systems. Manufacturer: Glidden’s.
6. All natural wood railings, wainscoting, and trims were repaired, filled and smooth-sanded. Then, two teak oil-treatments were applied. Manufacturer: MinWax.
7. The tile floors were cleaned with a mixture of natural elements, then re-grouted, and resealed.
8. The wood furniture and cabinetry were cleaned. Most received a teak oil-treatment.
9. Wood furniture and cabinetry with badly-abused surfaces were carefully wet-sanded. Then the pieces were painted with high-gloss indoor or outdoor latex.
10. Upholstered pieces were repaired and recovered.

The property remains in the family. Since 2007, the property and the resident owner receive visitors on rare occasions, and only at certain times of the year.
Still visible from every window, veranda and door is the ocean’s face. As peaceful, yet as changing and unpredictable, as the winds overhead.

The last month has been an ideal time to reflect on that home in Jamaica – and its very long recovery. Even with plenty of money, the owners have had to exercise immense patience during this reconstruction process.

And, as someone else’s in-law told me as Hurricane Maria threatened the islands last week, “Hurricanes are a part of island life, Bob. You take the major damage with the major joys.”

The man knew what he was talking about. At 71, he was still a life-long, and full-time, resident of St. Anne’s and Kingston. He’d ridden out many major storms in the past. And, even as he knew the Category 4-5 was ripping off shutters, uprooting 50-60 year old trees, and pouring rain into every crack, he smiled. Totally accepting and content.

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Natives bring island life into perspective for mainlanders.
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Best regards to both Roberts: the one back home in Jamaica, the other one wishing he were there.

Copyright 2017. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

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