September 11-12, 2004, Cayman experienced the devastating Hurricane Ivan. A category 5 storm with winds of 150mph with gusts of 220 mph, Ivan has made it to the top 10 most intense hurricanes from the Atlantic. Winds like that sound like a jet plane is trying to take off at your front yard. And then there was flood coming from storm surges, with reported wave heights of 10 feet to 30 feet, one can say that Ivan really lived up to its namesake, Ivan the Terrible.
After Ivan left, the destruction that was seen island-wide was heartbreaking to say the least. When my husband and I finally made it to our respective businesses, there lay another heartbreaking sight. The Celebrations store and offices was totally destroyed, there had been flood water coming in and from above as the roof of the MIRCO Centre in that block, was literally torn and rolled back, like one would open and pull back a tin can of beans! Flood waters rose to 5 ft, everything in our ground floor was damaged.
Truthfully, when I saw the utter destruction of the island and then what had happened to our store, I truly felt, like our company could not possibly survive. Realistically, who is going to want flowers, or gifts, for the many months to come, we knew that none of our weddings and events that were booked to happen, could not possibly happen. Its funny how you remember things, but that morning when I saw our store, tears just started coming. My two daughters Amanda and Kristin who were with me, gave me such support and encouragement. They were so positive telling me “Mom, we know you can do this; you can make this happen”. My family has always been supportive of my endeavors, even more so now. Of course, not to mention the most incredible staff members who did not wait to be asked but found me where we were and said we will help to get this back to where it all was. They worked in unbelievable conditions for months, e.g. no lights, walls torn out, but still they came through and we did what we had to do. We were grateful for what we had – our lives, friendship, and the pride of knowing that we could work together and make this happen.
The spark that came was in the form of someone riding up to our shop on a bike and wanting to order balloons. Amidst the wreckage and despair, someone found reason to celebrate, a proof of how incredible the Caymanian spirit is. Little by little, people started calling us for balloons, flowers, weddings. With a small team of dedicated Celebrations staff, we were able to operate like business as usual, while some worked in rehabilitating our premises. I knew before, but had the living proof, that the main asset of my company does not lie in the building, in the vehicles or in the furnishing, but it was in the team that I shared the same passion to see us through hard times.
10 years after Ivan and I am writing this with a grateful heart, for not only have we survived the horrors of Ivan and its after-effects, we have grown as a company, bigger and better but still holding on to its true core value of being a team dedicated to realizing other people’s dreams and wishes. I am ever grateful and thankful for the many blessings and lessons learned throughout this entire experience.