'It was like a war zone'

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James Howes picked his way through the rubble of the Causeway, slowly traversing the stricken bridge in a desperate effort to see whether there would be a place of work to return to.

The week had already begun badly for the general manager of Bermuda International Airport. A heavy cold and accompanying sore throat had struck him down at the beginning of Fabian week and he was forced to stay home for part of Wednesday with his illness.

  • James Howes

    James Howes


James Howes picked his way through the rubble of the Causeway, slowly traversing the stricken bridge in a desperate effort to see whether there would be a place of work to return to.

The week had already begun badly for the general manager of Bermuda International Airport. A heavy cold and accompanying sore throat had struck him down at the beginning of Fabian week and he was forced to stay home for part of Wednesday with his illness.

But by Saturday morning he was facing an unrelated headache of gargantuan proportions as he clambered over boulders to see if the Airport complex, which he had managed for the past 16 months, would still be there.

With 30 years of experience in the airport management game, Mr. Howes is no stranger to hurricanes and their effects.

His previous charge, St. Petersburg Airport in Florida, was struck by Hurricane Elena in 1985, submerging the runway and New York's Poughkeepsie Airport was hit hard by Hurricane David in 1979 when he was in charge.

Each natural disaster brings with it a fresh challenge and this was to be his first to deal with in Bermuda.

The dawn after Fabian brought unwelcome surprises for many on the Island with the new day bringing with it the first chance to see the devastation wrought by the storm's might.

And initial impressions at this airport were none to promising.

By virtue of the fact the Causeway was impassable to vehicles, Mr. Howes was presented with his first hurdle to re-opening the vital facility, that of access.

But that paled into insignificance when he first caught sight of the facility of which he was in charge.

Palm trees in the check-in area, huge sections of roof missing from the terminal building, damaged hangars, knocked out radar, boulders and piles of wrecked cars in the parking lot, two-thirds of the computers wiped out and seaweed and general hurricane-related detritus strewn across the runway.

"My heart sank when I first saw the Airport that morning," he told The Royal Gazette.

"There was tons of debris everywhere and all the fire alarms and security alarms were going off. There was this din of bells and horns - it was like a war zone.

"When I first saw the damage I thought 'how are we getting to get this place open again'."

"It was a case of doing whatever we could. There was no fixed target for getting the place open, it was a case of just getting on with it and seeing what happened."

It was at this stage the contingency plan of using the NATO hangar as an emergency terminal was being considered but as the damage assessment continued, the picture became rosier.

With 50 members of the Bermuda Regiment and a large contingent of Airport employees clambering over what was left of the Causeway, progress on the repairs was swift.

"Although the damage to the Airport was quite expensive, there was no structural damage and the runways survived with no serious problems," he continued.

"But probably the saving grace was that we never lost electricity. For those people who are calling for all power to be underground, I say 'Amen'.

"It made all the difference for us as it allowed the Regiment to literally work around the clock."

By Sunday night private planes were operating and with the Causeway reopening on the Monday, everything was done to ensure that the Airport would as well.

Customs clearance would now have to take place in the US, but fundamentally the Airport was operational although only Delta chose to operate that day.

And then the rain came.

"There was a huge cloudburst on that Monday only a few moments before the first plane was due to land," he said.

"It added insult to injury and we had to put up with water cascading through the roof. But those first flights came in and out without a hitch."

Although night flights remain an impossibility until the Causeway can be opened at night, full schedules are now being run at the Airport and it is "business as usual".

Until Mr. Howes' next hurricane....

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