More than ten days have passed since hurricane Lorenzo, time for some thoughts on what happened and how we and the community lived through it. Lorenzo was not the first massive storm hitting the island and leaving traces of destruction in coastal areas. But something was new, the storms in 1952 and 1986 happened in February and March, i.e., during the regular season of winter storms and not in the autumn. In September and October normally only the tails of the Caribbean hurricanes reach the Azores, by then they have lost energy and are not causing major disruptions. Lorenzo was though the first ever hurricane that actually reached the archipelago in the autumn. There are lots of opinions about climate change, independently what you think of its causes and effects – the facts show that things are changing. The sea surface is warmer than it used to be, resulting in higher energy picked up by the storms, making them stronger and more frequent. Even the blind ones cannot ignore anymore the reality of the changes, be it here, be it in the alps, where the glaciers of my memories have shrunk to ridiculous tails – we are heading into a new era. It is high time to act, and even if the doomsday forecasts might be overstated, Joel Pett’s cartoon in UsaToday brings it to a point: “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”Our experience of the storm was two sided. In our house, we safely spent the night only hearing the howling of the wind and the occasional rattling of the window shutters. Strangely there were very few gusts, all over the night the steady winds just got stronger and stronger. After reaching their peak at dawn, they again steadily lost in strength until everything returned to normal. We were actually woken up by our dogs who were reminding us about their breakfast. The wind itself did not cause any notable damages. Of course, on many houses there were some tiles blown off, some trees uprooted and power lines damaged, but no devastations. The traditional way of building houses on the Azores, no awnings, no rain pipes, no rolling shutters and top tiles fixed with cement have proven to be most adept to storms. Yes, sometimes it makes sense to listen to the ancestors.
But unfortunately, besides the wind there were the waves. They reached their peak some hours later and their force was devastating. You might have seen monster waves at the movies, seeing 20m waves in nature is just frightening. Especially considering that we were more than 400 km away from the eye of a category 2 storm. Neither pictures nor videos can really reproduce the impression of the moving masses. It was them, destroying some houses, the playground and the beach of Feteira. Also, in Porto Pim and in Varadouro buildings next to the coastline were destroyed or flooded. Luckily nobody was hurt, everybody was evacuated in time or just manged to escape through the backdoor. All in all, some 20 homes were destroyed, and families tragically lost all their belongings. Despite that, one must admit that the island escaped from the storm with less damages that one would have expected.The aftermath of Lorenzo has shown the spirit of the communities here in the Azores. The people of Faial, of Fetiera immediately started to help and after a couple of days of hard work most of the areas were cleaned up. We also spent two days down at the beach, brining like many others our gardening tools and our hands to help. Funnily, when the Azorean Government came for a visit, they interviewed Barbara, probably the only on not speaking Portuguese, on the progress of the work. With a smile they were given an example of active integration of immigrants. Collections of clothes, furniture and household equipment for the families who lost their homes are still ongoing. The island community of 15.000 inhabitants got together, and by now most of the items needed for immediate relieve have been donated. To ensure long term support, two accounts for money donations have been set up (see below for the links). Ten days after Lorenzo we can say that we now got our real initiation to the Azorean life. We went through a big storm, and we also experienced the positive force of Azorean community life. Great to live here. And for those who do not believe in climate change, open your eyes and if this still does not help, please contribute to create a better world, even without needing a reason to do so.