Hurricane season came to the Caribbean this week, showing again how fragile and isolated these island nations are, and how interdependent.
Any storm that scores a direct hit on Barbados, as Hurricane Allen did this week, interrupts transportation in the entire chain. When a radio tower topples in St. Lucia, as happened Sunday night, much of the communication system for all the islands stops dead.
Residents of these islands are used to hopping from atoll to atoll the way big-country dwellers drive to the next city, Most people have friends and relatives scattered over hundreds of miles of sea on other islands that, under normal conditions, seem just next door.
This week, it is often impossible to make a telephone call from one community to the next. Worried residents stay glued to their short wave radios, hoping the spotty transmissions will tell them all is well with traveling friends and relatives.
In the towns and villages of the worst hit islands, small wooden houses that seem so picturesque under the Caribbean sunshine are blown away like matchboxes. Slender banana stalks that climb the hillsides are flattened. In one short night of howling winds and pounding sea, national economies are ruined and long-term plans shattered.
Although Allen only skirted Grenada, the new People's Revolutionary government, a leftist anomaly in this former colonial basin of British parilamentary clones, mobilized the masses in preparation. Hatches were battened down in the harbor, citizens were warned to stay indoors and candles were distributed.
A major hurricane has not been through this island, at the chain's southern tip, since 1955. But Grenadians remember well the recent example of neighboring Dominica, virtually destroyed last year by Hurricane David.
As the storm builds outside, the prevailing mood of locals is apprehensive and cautious. At the islands's tourist hotels, there is fear and boredom. In the open-air lobby of the Holiday Inn, West German honeymooners and businessmen sit glumly and stare at each other, unable to converse at normal levels of volume because of the roar of the wind. Palm fronds torn from trees skitter across the tiled floor.
In the candlelit dining room, darkened early in the day by the lead-gray skies and the absence of electricity, middle-aged couples in Hawaiian print shirts toy silently with their food, bereft of beach, pool and even the holiday reading matter in their suitcases that the airline has left behind in Barbados.
A British housewife wonders what to do for diapers for her infant, their luggage having also been left behind. Her husband, echoing his own government's leerinees of the local revolutionaries and apparently blaming politics for the storm, mutters that they should have gone to Antigua like last year. It is one of two British colonies left in the former Caribbean empire.
But Allen couldn't care less about communists and capitalists, politics or poverty. The islands are all in this together, and the special circumstances of shared danger bind them. When this storm is over, they will share their remaining resources, the same way they did after David.
Outside, the deafening torrent has obscured vision beyond a few feet and sent newly cut rivers surging down the steep, narrow mountain roads. While the rain seldom actually stops, if sometimes slows to a steady weep.
The wind never ceases. It bullies the palm trunks almost to the ground and sends the sea onto shore with sledgehammer blows that threaten to chip away at this delicate patch of defenseless jungle until it vanishes in a wave of swirling debris and floating leaves.
It is horrifying and majestic, and even the bored and irritated tourists -- some of them at least -- are caught in its spell. As her husband frets and thinks of the dwindling days of the three-week holiday, the British housewife stares out at the sea and whispers, "I think it's just wonderful."