Since being founded in the mid-17th century, the small Jamaican fishing town of Port Royal has survived a seemingly endless cycle of typically Caribbean threats, including pirates, plagues, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the locals nursing iced rum-and-Cokes on Sunday evening in the town’s square were instinctively relaxed about Hurricane Matthew – the latest potentially lethal inconvenience to breeze through Port Royal.
“I definitely no leave, bro,” said Edgar Barrington Aitken, a toothless 57-year-old fisherman. “No I’m not scared, bro. I’m a fisherman. If something do happen, it’s gonna happen. That’s how I look at life. So why should I run?”
Matthew, the strongest hurricane to menace Caribbean nations since 2007, was blowing winds of 145 miles per hour (233 kph) on Sunday evening and threatening to submerge Port Royal with rain and storm surge.
Earlier on Sunday, Delmares White, the spokeswoman for Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, said the government was urging people in low-lying, coastal or flood-prone areas to evacuate their homes.
In Port Royal, which lies at the end of a spit of land jutting out into the sea, about 30 minutes’ drive from downtown Kingston, the government was sending buses to take evacuees to a temporary shelter at the National Arena, she said.
By 4 p.m., however, the buses had yet to materialise. They would not have served much use, anyway, because most in Port Royal were proud to say they were not going anywhere.
“I’m gonna ride it out,” said Edmond Nicholas, a 21-year-old fish scraper, as he shovelled sand into sugar sacks to barricade his home. “I’ve experienced three (hurricanes) already.”
Originally inhabited by the Taino Indians, the site was conquered by the Spanish in the 15th century. It was founded as a town in 1655 by the English, who designated it the capital of Jamaica and developed it into one of the most important cities and naval bases in the Caribbean.
‘PEOPLE ARE SAFER HERE’
But natural disasters have always been part of the town’s DNA.
In 1692, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami almost destroyed Port Royal. In 1703, a massive fire could have consigned the defiant little town to history, but it lived on to survive three further hurricanes between 1712 and 1726.
Long a magnet for treasure-hungry pirates and other ne’er-do-wells, Port Royal was once known as “the richest and wickedest city in the world.”
These days, however, much of the danger has moved across the water to Kingston, where poverty and drug violence are rife, said Henry Hunt, a 74-year-old former coast guard, who has lived his entire life in Port Royal.
He had no plans to evacuate because he said his home was an oasis of calm compared with the harsh streets of Kingston.
“Port Royal used to be one of the wickedest places in the world,” he said as he inspected the fishing boats in the harbour, which had been lashed together in preparation for the storm.
“Now I believe it is the blessedest in the world, because there is no crime and violence here,” he said, as a light rain dusted his whitening hair. “People are safer here.”
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Peter Cooney)