Libraries in disasters: dispatch from Bermuda

The final post on our libraries in disasters discussion topic comes from one of our current ILN participants, Sara Westhead. Sara wrote to us just days after Hurricane Gonzalo had hit Bermuda, where she works and studies. She offered to write the submission for us below – but was somewhat delayed by the lack of power and internet at her house due to the storm. We’re honoured to be hosting this very topical post from Sara, and wish her community all the best with the recovery effort now underway.

In the space of just five short days, the tiny island of Bermuda was hit not once, but twice by severe tropical storms.

Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (about 700 miles due east of North Carolina, USA), Bermuda is a mere speck at only 21 square miles. Yet, this tiny British colony endured first the unexpected rage of Tropical Storm Fay on Sunday, October 12th, and Hurricane Gonzalo on Friday, October 17th.

Bermuda was largely unprepared for TS Fay, which had category 1-hurricane force gusts – most thought it, like so many other storms, would miss us with little more than a little extra breeze rustling through the tress. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, the storm’s pattern changed and Bermuda received a direct hit leaving a wreck in its wake. Roads were blocked with debris and whole trees were pulled out of the ground, roots and all. The wind also wrecked havoc on the island’s power supply, and most of the island was plunged into the dark, which also left them without water, internet, and other services that rely on electricity.

And then the word came that there was another storm brewing out in the Atlantic Ocean – Gonzalo – and it was also expected to make a direct hit. However, instead of a tropical storm, it was going to be a category 3, possibly 4, hurricane.

As you can imagine, Bermudians went into overdrive with hurricane preparedness – we would not be caught unawares again! This time, we were better prepared (Bermuda was discovered thanks to a hurricane, so we do fare much better than many of our American counterparts), but once again, the island was plunged into darkness – some never having gotten their power turned back on after Fay.

I write this long narrative to set the stage for what has proven to be a true benefit in my life – and for so many other Bermudians…

On the Friday before Fay hit, the Bermuda National Library celebrated its 175th anniversary with an open house of sorts, offering free popcorn, cupcakes and gelato to members (“Just join, and you can get it free, too!”). Work continued as usual that Saturday, and then Fay arrived (the library is closed on a Sunday). Amazingly, the reopened on Monday morning just as normal – even after sustaining damage to a portion of the roof. Over the week, many utilized the free wifi (probably more than we’ll know for sure) to access email and social media, while they awaited power to be restored.

Of course, they then had to start preparing for the impending Gonzalo – a task which included some very creative marketing on Facebook, advising people that library books were important hurricane preparedness supplies and reminding them that their Kindles would only last so-long when the power was out! Again, the BNL didn’t miss a beat, only closing the two days that the entire island was shut down for the impact of Gonzolo and the day after when roads were closed.

For my own family, we were very fortunate to only lose our power for 12 hours during Fay (unlike my parents’ house and about 1500 other homes which went without between the two storms). However, I had a feeling things would be different when Gonzalo came (we lost power for 2 weeks in 2003 when the island was hit by Hurricane Fabian). As I am currently working my LIS degree online, having access to the Internet was imperative. But, again, the library came to my rescue!

By day 4 of no electricity, I was desperate touch base with professors and classmates in a group project (oh, and my family overseas, too!), I left work early and headed into the BNL, sat outside at a café table with my two children in tow, and was able to successfully check-in with professors, clear my in-box, schedule a mass emailing for my “day” job, and let the rest of the world know that our family was okay! Even my youngest was thrilled, as he had been going through YouTube-withdrawal… Had it not been for the free wifi service, it might have been days before I could have checked-in (okay, not days – we were fortunate to get our power back that very night, but other friends are still without).

Needless to say, I am so very thankful that we had access to what has proven, at least to me, to be a vital service of the Bermuda National Library.


Sara Westhead at the NYPL

Sara Westhead is pursuing her MSc in Library & Information Studies online at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. She resides in Bermuda with her husband and two sons, and currently works as a marketing coordinator for a local environmental charity. She also serves as an unpaid intern at the BNL.

Posted in Discussion topics, In the news, Round 3 and tagged .


  1. Pingback: ILN: Dispatch from Bermuda | BermudaBookgirl

  2. Sarah West head, I adore your determination. In my country Uganda, we have an area nicknamed Bermuda in reference to what is being broughtto us. This area had a lot of disasters but were not related to library movement. Congz to bring this information to us though touching. Pray for me to complete my Thesis for the MLIS. God Bless You All

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