Irma leaves love in her wake

I have stared at this blank screen for twenty minutes now.

Desperately wanting to write a blog, but simply not knowing where to start or what possible words I can use to accurately describe the “experience”.

For those that are not aware, the British Virgin Islands was hit head on by Hurricane Irma earlier this month. It became the largest storm the Atlantic had ever seen and the eye of the storm absolutely swallowed up and spat out our beautiful islands.

You can read a lot of narratives online already and view the truly disturbing photos and videos that are apparently everywhere.

I have to admit, I have barely looked at nor read anything at all in the last few weeks. I don’t need to. It’s all there, burned into the retina.

When talking to people about writing this blog, some people suggested that I should just focus on the business side of what has happened since she hit.

And there is no doubt that is an incredible story in its own right. All institutions essential to the successful undertaking of business in the BVI are functioning: our regulator, the Financial Services Commission, barely blinked. I actually received an approval for a fund application that I submitted the day before the storm hit three business days later. My client was somewhat surprised having watched the carnage unfold online and vowed to never even consider another jurisdiction again.

The Commercial Division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is operating and so my litigation friends can continue their ambulance chasing to their hearts-content. VIRRGIN, the online corporate registry, is fully operational and accessible anywhere in the world. The Hong Kong branch jumped seamlessly into action on the 8th and ran incorporations as if nothing was going on at all in Tortola. It’s staggering, although having spent almost ten years in the BVI now, one of the fundamental words I would always use when being asked to describe my BVI friends would be “resilient”. Our islands have had near misses many times in the past and whilst they have caused some damage, the manner in which everyone pops out of their hiding space and starts cleaning up the island immediately never ceases to amaze me. Well the financial services industry has nicely followed suit (although sadly with less access to diggers) and allowed our global client base to continue their businesses, without a single misstep.

As for Harneys, I am so incredibly proud to say that our BVI office has reopened with all teams and practice groups providing client service as before the storm. Like virtually all businesses in the BVI, Harneys’ premises in Road Town suffered damage during the passage of Hurricane Irma (I would like to confirm that my signed John Barnes Liverpool shirt from the 1987/88 season that I kept in my office survived although might still be slightly wet), however we have opened back up and when you combine that with some BVI-based staff who evacuated following the storm who are now working from one of our other offices in the Caribbean, London or Asia, we have continued to provide the level of service that the firm has always prided itself on.

But.

This blog can’t just be about our industry and our business. There is simply so much more to all of this that both I experienced, but was also endured by every single other person on our island and many of our neighbouring islands that suffered the same fate.

I sheltered from the hurricane with my wife and our three young children in our home. My wife is ridiculously well prepared and between us we had plotted the very worst scenarios and how we would react. We had Plan A, Plan B and Plan C mapped out and as we hunkered down, whilst of course concerned, we hoped we were ready for what was about to come.

No one could have been.

Nothing like that has ever been seen before.

I absolutely hope with everything I have that nothing like that will ever be seen again.

We spent about 15 hours in the darkness of our “bunker” (as we described it). We battled every single part of the elements with our bare hands, whilst at all times trying to pretend to the kids that all was very well. Charging up the tablets for the experience was absolutely the right play; only having “Boss [Bloody] Baby” to watch on the tablet that they all wanted to share was absolutely not. Damn you Alec Baldwin, your voice will forever be our grating commentary during that storm.

Having struggled to start this blog, I am now completely running out of space. I have not had the chance to describe the feeling when we heard the first voice of another human being the next day (fellow blogger, Oliver Bell); I have not described what I saw when I first crawled out of a tiny window to view the carnage before me. I have not had a chance to describe the 30 mile hike we did on the first day to try and find friends and loved ones, contact the outside world to let people know we were alive and then locate safe shelter for our families before darkness came in.

And that’s just Day One. I was on our island after Irma for five more days and can’t even begin to start in this blog a commentary on what we all went through trying to deal with the aftermath and my very tiny part in all that was going on. Having been part of the evacuation team at the airport, I can very proudly say we organised well over 200 people to safety elsewhere, which required some somewhat intensive negotiating skills with pilots, ground staff, air traffic control and commandos. Having completed that task, and in a wonderful twist of irony, I then came exceptionally close to missing the final Harneys plane off the island (my hotwiring skills of abandoned cars let me down slightly) and so the ridiculously happy (and hugely sunburnt) face absolutely shows the emotions I felt that I was finally off to go and see my family again. And the fact that my Santa beard was already coming on nicely in time for Christmas.

So for now, let me leave you with this.

There are some incredibly sad stories from the path of destruction that Irma tore through the Atlantic and our idyllic islands. There were fatalities. There are people who have lost everything they ever had and have no foreseeable opportunity to ever get it back.

However.

In my six days on that island post-Irma (PI), I of course held people whilst they cried and had my own heart broken on too many occasions. But, alongside that, I shared laughter, I shared a joy for life and I must have hugged well over five hundred people, a lot of whom I had not met before. The love and community spirit that ran through all of our veins during that time will stay with me forever.

We will rebuild. We will be stronger. We will be better.

Why am I so confident?

Because of the incredible bond so many of us now have. It is a love for each other, it is a love for our island and it is a love for the bright future to come. If Irma couldn’t break that spirit, nothing can.

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone that has sent such incredible messages of support throughout this period. You’ve kept us afloat and we simply can’t thank you enough. Love to you all too.

Philip Graham

Philip is a partner and expert on offshore funds at Harneys who puts his ever increasing grey hairs down to three young children, supporting Liverpool Football Club, and being married. In no particular order.


12 comments

  1. If Liverpool played as well as you write Phil, they’d be EPL champs. Alas… Your harrowing tale is amazing and I hope the recovery will be speedy for all those who have been so terribly effected by the storm. Stay well.

  2. Amazing write up mate. Thanks so much. Em and I are just glad you, the family, and so many of our friends still in the BVI are safe.

  3. Nice article Phil. Thank you for helping me get Our pregnant neighbor and her mother off. Of course I had never met her before the storm but found her weeping and traumatized the day after. My priority because getting her the hospital the next day to check her baby who had stopped moving and then get her off the island so she can prepare for the arrival of her little one. Seeing you are the airport, calling 2 spare seats and seeing her safely on the flight was wonderful. I don’t know if I will see her again but a month on I would like to imagine that her baby has arrived safely. You did a super job.

    And I hear you on hugging strangers – I was all over any passers by as I cleared the Elevator hill the next day.

  4. Well done, Phil. I cannot begin to fathom what you have endured, but trust your unique and thoughtful spirit was a large part of your successful trek through the worst. I look forward to seeing you very soon, my friend.

  5. Phil, there are no words. Well written. Thank you. I still remember those bright orange sneakers as you sprinted back and forth through the airport on evacuation day as we tried to pull and keep it all together…screaming toddlers in 90 degree temps and all. The BVI has truly shown its resilience and continues to do so. I am very proud to know you all and to call it my home.

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