They came one right after another. Just as one hurricane passed through the Caribbean, another one had already formed off the coast of Africa and was making its relentless way toward the islands.
Verona Carter, Jamaica-based director of public relations for the Caribbean Ritz-Carlton properties, spoke of it as a nerve-wracking waiting game. The island had been savaged by Charley in August and sideswiped by Frances earlier this month. Then, as the weekend of September 11 neared, Hurricane Ivan crawled his way toward a bull’s-eye punch.
About 450 people were hunkered down on the island’s western shore at the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, Jamaica. Ritz-Carlton had managed to evacuate all except about 90 of its own guests, but it had 75 of its staff on hand and it had taken in guests from other more vulnerable properties on the island—along with 45 infants and babies from the nearby Blossom Gardens orphanage.
General Manager Martin P. Nicholson said that, when it became apparent that Ivan was going to pack a huge wallop, the Ritz-Carlton bused staff and guest volunteers to the orphanage, which it helps to support, to provide "the requisite number of laps" to move the babies there to the safety of the sturdily built Ritz.
Fortunately, once the huge storm, upgraded to a maximum Category 5, hit the eastern shore of the island, the Blue Mountains held up a natural line of defense for the western shore. Ivan stalled and veered off and around, sparing that side of the island the full brunt of his force. Still, according to Carter, the vicious storm was "the most howly, horrible, evil thing you can ever hear in the middle of the night." The infants, who spent three nights at the property, were cuddled and pacified, held, walked, and rocked, by staff and guests alike.
Although the Ritz ultimately sustained little damage after the winds had subsided, Jamaica saw 15 deaths as a result of the storm. Most of the destruction was focused on the eastern side. (The Ritz-Carlton itself was soon 100 percent operational.)
Ivan’s effects were not all darkness and destruction: Although it’s not official yet, there are indications that as many as three babies may be adopted as a result of the bonding that took place between infants and guests during the hurricane’s siege.