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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Hurricane Beryl turns Wilson family’s Jamaica vacation into ‘lifetime experience’

    Twenty-seven members of the Wilson family of Norwich and friends spent last week at a resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of Debra, front row, white dress, and Byron Wilson, front row to her left. Their son, Derell Wilson, stands second from right. The family spent hours sheltered in a convention center during Hurricane Beryl on July 3, 2024. (Courtesy of Derell Wilson)
    Felled palm trees and debris cover demolished shade huts on the Montego Bay beach resort following Hurricane Beryl on July 3, 2024. Twenty-seven members of the Wilson family of Norwich and friends vacationed at the Montego Bay, Jamaica, resort as Hurricane Beryl struck. (Courtesy of Derell Wilson)

    Norwich ― Twenty-seven family and friends of the Wilson family departed for a vacation in Jamaica on June 29 to celebrate Byron and Debra Wilson’s 40th anniversary.

    By Wednesday, an uninvited guest arrived: Hurricane Beryl.

    Derell Wilson, a Democratic state representative from Norwich, said his family goes on trips to Jamaica or the Bahamas each summer, bringing a large group of extended family and friends. This year was special to celebrate his parents’ 40th anniversary.

    They booked a stay at a resort in Montego Bay.

    “Leading up to the storm, the weather was amazing,” Wilson said, “and even the morning the hurricane (July 3) was making landfall, we had bright, sunny skies.”

    But they could tell the storm was coming. The water in the bay started to become choppy, and waves were bringing more and more seaweed ashore.

    The government announced that everyone at the resort needed to shelter in place inside the theater and convention center buildings. There, Wilson’s family, including his 30-year-old special needs triplets, hunkered down and waited.

    They could hear the Category 4 storm’s wind and pounding rain. The air conditioning in the building was not meant for the more than 200 people gathered there from 11:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m., when the storm passed.

    Montego Bay, on the northern coast of Jamaica, protected a bit by mountains, did not suffer the direct hit and severe damage other parts of the island nation experienced, Wilson said. The resort did lose power for about a day, and the grounds were a mess.

    Seaweed and palm tree branches clogged the swimming pool. Beach shade huts lay in ruins beneath felled trees, and debris coated the beach.

    “We had the opportunity to go into town, Trelawny,” Wilson said. “We had the opportunity to see some of the lower-lying homes where the rainfall collected.”

    Wilson said he and his traveling companions took care of his elderly parents and special needs siblings during and after the storm and obeyed all the government-ordered restrictions. He said he was amazed at how quickly the resort staff cleaned up the area and how well the government communicated ahead of time with local businesses and tourists about the pending storm.

    The family returned home without trouble Saturday, Wilson said. The airport was overcrowded with people whose flights earlier in the week were postponed, and scheduled flights were already full with American tourists during the July 4 holiday week.

    Because they vacation in the Caribbean each summer, the Wilson family has experienced tropical storms and even Category 1 or 2 hurricanes. But this was their first Category 4 hurricane.

    “It was a lifetime experience,” Wilson said. “Being in government myself, it was unique to see from a different perspective how important government is in making sure people are safe, and how efforts are coordinated on an island to make sure everything is intact.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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