The Monday morning after Hurricane Ivan passed, Sandy Urquhart, General
Manager of the West Indian Club Nursery, felt torn.
He had spent the night before in his Hummer vehicle rescuing people from
buildings devastated by the storm, so he knew the kind of damage the island had
Like many on the island at the time, he worried that many residents might
have died during the vicious hurricane. “I had 15 members of staff still on the
island who had not evacuated, and I was concerned about where they were and what
state they were in,” he said.
But Mr. Urquhart also was worried about the West Indian Club Nursery,
something he had spent the last decade developing into one of the world’s
foremost entities of its kind.
“I decided that I had to take a look at the nurseries first and get that over
with,” he said.
When he drove into the propagation nursery off the Esterley Tibbetts Highway,
Mr. Urquhart saw the effects of several feet of flooding.
“I thought we’d lost everything. I thought I’d lost 10 years of my life. It
was just completely devastated,” he said.
On entering the Nursery’s second location on Batabano Road in West Bay, Mr.
Urquhart found a better situation. “That was a relief,” he said. “You could tell
that the water levels had been a lot lower there.”
Mr. Urquhart then proceeded to track down the nursery’s employees on the
island to make sure they were all right. “All 15 were accounted for by Monday
night,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Urquhart and his staff began the arduous task of saving what
it could at the Batabano site, putting fallen plants upright again, clearing
debris and removing dead plants. It was an unpleasant task for the people who
had worked so hard to help create so much life.
“There was a great deal of depression at first,” Mr. Urquhart said. “There
was a tremendous sense of loss. But I explained to the staff that the glass was
really half full.”
Although plant life was an important factor at the nursery, it was not the
only factor Mr. Urquhart said. “The true beauty of this nursery isn’t the plant
material, but the 10 years of knowledge we’ve gained on how to propagate here in
the Cayman Islands.”
With that knowledge, and the dedicated work of its employees, the West Indian
Club Nursery has already started to grow again. Mr. Urquhart estimates that 80
percent of the plants at the Batabano location were salvaged.
Speaking of his staff’s performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, Mr.
Urquhart glows. “The true value of our staff became apparent,” he said. “The
quality of our people was astonishing. They had phenomenal drive to deal with
Similarly to the way some of the heartier native plants survived the
hurricane, Mr. Urquhart thinks that the response of the indigenous people is
linked to heritage. “It’s as if they have a genetic connection to the
environment and to storms. It distorts itself in times of affluence, but
resurfaces in times of need,” he said.
Mr. Urquhart thinks that, just as with the people of the Cayman Islands, the
island’s plants will regenerate “Nature is such an interesting, but consistent
energy source,” he said, adding that, given time, the plant life will
In the meantime, the West Indian Club Nursery continues to rebuild as it
prepares to provide landscaping for the Dart Realty projects, including the
multi–phase, multi–decade West Indian Club development, which is scheduled to
get under way early next year.
Like many organizations, the nursery is looking at the lessons to be learned
from Hurricane Ivan. “We’re in the process of comprehensively reviewing, from
the storm’s perspective, everything we are doing,” said Mr. Urquhart. “It
doesn’t necessarily mean we change anything. But we’d like to improve on some
things like hurricane preparedness.”