Dramatic headlines might lead you to believe that Hurricane Hugo wiped out the entire Caribbean. Not so.
About 16% of the Caribbean resort islands were affected, but Hugo did little or no damage to more than 40 other vacation islands when it roared northwest from landfall at French Guadeloupe Sept. 18-19.
The best-known Caribbean islands, stretching south and east from Florida to the coast of South America, cover a distance comparable to that of the west coast, some 1,300 miles. Hugo hit the equivalent of Portland to Seattle, and left an area the size of the California coast virtually unaffected.
Hugo's detailed itinerary included tiny Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, and St. Croix (which lies 40 miles south of its sister U.S. Virgin islands, St. Thomas and St. John), plus Vieques and Culebra and the eastern half of Puerto Rico. From San Juan, Hugo headed northwest to Charleston, S.C.
Although the hurricane pruned and toppled trees and raged against buildings, splintering those that showed any sign of weakness, Hugo's main effect on neighboring islands was downed electrical power lines and trees, high seas and torrential rains and flooding.
Sand and sea water gushed through many beachside hotel rooms, but was tirelessly swept out again as the first step toward post-hurricane recovery. Most hotels have hurricane insurance and will refurbish, repair and rebuild, when necessary, for the winter season.
Before Hugo, the region was anticipating an unprecedented boom for the winter months, traditionally the peak season. Some places may benefit from reservations originally intended for Hugo's islands, but the hard-hit hotels of Puerto Rico expect to recover--to claim the business they had expected.
Guadeloupe's Novotel, in the Bas du Fort area, entertained guests throughout the hurricane, and other properties around the towns of Gosier and Bas du Fort are already recovering.
Sailors can expect challenges in finding charter yachts. Hundreds were yanked from their moorings in the United States and British Virgin Islands, to be slammed onshore in a kamikaze action that destroyed both buildings and yachts.
Antigua's English Harbour, on the other hand, coddled its yachts, as the harbor did when 18th- and 19th-Century British fleets knew it as a safe haven and home port. Most yachts anchored there and in nearby Falmouth Harbour survived.
Yachts in marinas in Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and other islands south of Dominica were well away from Hugo's route. Bookings intended for now-ruined yachts will bloat the already plump market in the southern islands.
Scuba divers should anticipate cloudy seas surrounding the islands in Hugo's path. A roiling ocean changes the sea floor, damaging coral, displacing fish and churning once-clear waters for weeks after the event. Check with dive masters to be sure that seas surrounding your island are clear enough to offer the sights you're hoping to find.
Among the islands affected by Hurricane Hugo (phone numbers listed are for the country's tourism office in the United States):
Antigua and Barbuda, West Indies. Hugo's calling card was mostly winds and high seas that swept sand into some beach-front places. When the rubble was cleared, most places had been spared. For more information, call (212) 541-4117.
British Virgin Islands, West Indies. Many yachts were damaged by Hugo's winds and rain, and hotels received a pummeling. However, most hotels on Tortola and Virgin Gorda will be in good shape by winter. The Little Dix Bay was accepting guests a few days after Hugo went north. Call (212) 696-0400.
Dominica, West Indies. Most of the banana crop of this agricultural island was wiped out by Hugo, whose impact was felt in the northern sector. Call (212) 682-0435.
Guadeloupe, French West Indies. Two islands--Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre--were battered and bruised by Hugo's visit. Basse-Terre, the western island, suffered least; Grand-Terre's southeast coastal town of Saint Francois was crushed. Although many seaside shack bistros were destroyed, they will be rebuilt as soon as food supplies warrant.
But Hotel Arawak and Hotel Salako, both in Gosier on the southern coast of Grande-Terre, are open.
For the upcoming winter, Club Med's enclave at Sainte-Anne, where the south coast bends north on Grande-Terre, expects to be in full swing, as do most hotels at Gosier and Bas du Fort. Fall will be spent recovering, with help from mainland France. Call (212) 757-1125.
Montserrat, British West Indies. Like a farmer shearing his sheep, Hugo denuded this once-verdant, mountainous island. Not only were all crops ripped from their sockets, but houses were splintered. Immediate British aid was soon followed by help from other quarters, but it will be a long time before this tiny island will be fully recovered. Montserratians have always been known for genuine hospitality; they'll be ready for visitors when life's essentials are in place. Call (212) 682-0435.