Friday, September 17, 2004
Last Saturday night, 20 Jamaicans sat in front of a television in Steamboat Springs. They were braced for the worst as Hurricane Ivan spun toward their homes and their families.
"We watched the television all night," said Larkland Green, a Jamaican who has lived in Steamboat Springs for two years as an employee of the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. "We saw part of Kingston on the news. Houses were being washed away. Boats were (being carried) away by the sea."
Green is one of 20 Jamaicans who work as housekeepers at the Sheraton.
Dubbed "Ivan the Terrible" by Jamaicans, the hurricane hit Jamaica at about midnight Sept. 10. By morning, trees across the island had been uprooted, roofs were ripped off, and homes were flooded.
According to an article published by the BBC, the national electric grid was shut down, leading to a blackout across the island.
Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit Jamaica in more than 10 years, since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.
As of Friday, Paul Tugman hadn't heard from his family. Phone lines in much of Jamaica are down, and all cell phone service is cut off.
Most of the Jamaican population here is still guessing about the state of their homes and the safety of their families. The Sheraton has offered free long distance calls to their Jamaican employees while they deal with the disaster.
Shirline Green's mother lives in Jamaica and cares for Shirline's three children, ages 4, 9 and 16. She refused to leave her home despite the warnings. A tree smashed into her house and took off the roof. Shirline and her husband, Larkland Green, know their house is flooded, but won't see the extent of the damage until they return home.
Despite the emotional strain of staying in Steamboat, all the Jamaicans are staying in Colorado until their H2B visas expire.
"I'd like to go home, but we have to be practical," Larkland Green said. "We need the money to support our families."
The Jamaicans send half of their earnings home to spouses, parents and children that they go years without seeing.
"Working here is a privilege," said Paul Sealie, a Jamaican who has worked at the Sheraton for 3 1/2 years.
Mary Schminkey, director of housekeeping for the Sheraton, told her Jamaican employees that they didn't have to come into work last Saturday or Sunday. They came anyway, she said.
Jamaicans are employed in Steamboat seasonally by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and year-round by businesses including the Sheraton, Pisa's, Wendy's and Safeway. Schminkey is trying to form a fund to help her Jamaican employees and is interested in connecting with other Steamboat employers who have Jamaican staff members.
A fund has been set up at Community First called the "Steamboat to Jamaica: Hurricane Ivan Relief Fund," sponsored by the Sheraton. A committee is being created to assess individual needs and award money for the reconstruction of homes.
Employers who have Jamaican staff interested in participating in the fund should call Schminkey at 871-6512.
"I know the pain my staff has gone through," Schminkey said. "We'd like to come to the aid of other workers going through the same thing."
-- To Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
or e-mail email@example.com