Hurricane Dean Photos and Chase Account

By: Mike Theiss , 11:39 PM GMT on August 21, 2007

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Hurricane Dean Chase Account From Dominica:

Iíve always wanted to document a Hurricane in the Lesser Antilles and saw Dean as the perfect opportunity. I knew there was a chance I would miss Deanís later landfall in the Yucatan as a stronger Hurricane but decided to go for it. I knew Dean would be a strengthening Cat-2 when passing the islands but didnít know for sure if Martinique or Dominica would take the direct hit. I flew to Puerto Rico and waited as long as I could before the flights were about to be canceled and chose Dominica. The flight to Dominica was amazing! The plane flew through the rain forest mountains and valleys and we had to make a quick decent since the runway was short and because of the mountains we could not make a gradual decent. It was a wild landing to what would be the beginning of a wild expedition. I arrived to the airport to find many tourists panicking trying to get off the island. This is typical before a hurricane is about to strike a location. I have arrived to many locations and seen this reaction from people every time. Funny how Iím always the only person desperately trying to get into position for the storm and everyone else is trying to get away.

I went to my reserved hotel in the town of Roseau on the southern tip of the island and began to unpack all my gear and prep for the next morning when the Hurricane conditions would arrive. The staff at the ďGarraway HotelĒ was finishing up last minute preparations and did a fantastic job making things safe for the guests. I felt extremely safe and accommodated by the excellent staff and was pleased to hear the hotel had a brand new back up generator so we would never lose power. I headed out into town with the last hour of daylight left to try and stock up on water and food since I always prepare for the worst and want enough food and water to be self sufficient for at least 7 days. I had no luck since the only stores open have huge lines and basically are already sold out of supplies anyway. I get back to the hotel and ask where I can get some water and food and I'm directed to the bar where I was able to buy 6 gallons of water and some other food supplies. Like I said the hospitality at the Garraway Hotel was amazing. I decided to get a few hours sleep before things got interesting and was able to get a solid 2 hours of sleep until....

Crash! I was startled out of bed at 5:30am from a loud crashing sound of a large piece of sheet metal hitting the side of the hotel. Winds were picking up and daybreak was coming real soon. I never bother going outside when still dark because there is no point if I canít shoot video and photos. I analyzed the storm on the internet and realized the island Martinique just to the south will take a direct hit and Dominica will be spared from the worst winds. My attention then shifts from documenting wind to documenting any landslides or flash flooding that may occur. The island of Dominica is mountainous and I knew with the heavy rains we would experience that there was going to be some issues with mudslides and flash floods coming down the mountainside.

Daybreak! I venture outside and the winds are blowing about 65mph and giant swells are starting to come in and crash over the seawall. Throughout the morning the winds shifted as the storms center passed and now the winds were causing havoc. The gusts were probably no more than 65mph but there was a lot of loose pieces of sheet metal and other debris that made this a dangerous situation. The hotel had locked in all the guests in the hotel for their own safety so I shot video out my hotel room window for the first few hours as the strongest winds passed by. The winds were starting to calm down by 12noon but the rain never slowed down and I just knew this was going to cause problems and be the main story for this expedition. I ventured my way over to where a small flash flood had started and in the matter of an hour this small flash flood became a raging class 5 rapids of rushing brown water and mud that was coming down the mountainside. I was having a tough time getting video because I could not keep the video camera dry. I decided to run back to the hotel and get my brand new underwater housing I bought for my still camera and give the video camera some rest. The underwater housing worked perfect. I didnít have to worry about keeping it dry or hiding under rooftops. I was able to get out in the thick of things in the pouring rain and document this rapidly rising flash flood. There were homes being destroyed on top the mountains and down at the bottom of the mountain where I was I would occasionally see roof tops, refrigerators, and other parts from homes come rushing by in the dangerous flood waters. I even saw large trees that were ripped out of the ground in mudslides float by moving very fast. This was the most violent and fast moving water I had ever seen. Yes, Katrina the water was higher but not moving as fast and violent as I was experiencing in Dominica. I continued to document this event and after about 3 hours the rain let up and the water instantly began to go back down. The winds were way down now to about 35-40 mph and the rain stopped but now the attention was drawn to the large 10-15 foot swells coming in off the ocean. There were dozens of localís standing on the seawall letting the waveís crash into them. At this point I had been soaking wet for hours and felt the documentation of the flash flood was a success and called it a day. I arrived back to my hotel that is now running on a back up generator and was surprised to see I still had high speed internet. I took a long hot shower and got dry. Now, if you are reading this you might think the main adventure is over, NOPE! It has only begun.

I had reservations with American Airlines to leave the island but they were cancelled due to weather conditions. This is understandable and appreciated for safety. But, what I found out next was totally unacceptable. I called American Airlines to see when they would be flying again and when I could leave the island. I was told that two flights will be coming in tomorrow but there is no room on any plane for 2 weeks!! Yes, 2 weeks. Ok, letís get this straight, I had reservations to leave and AA cancelled them so I am not going to be put on the next incoming plane? I was told all flights are full for 2 weeks and that they were sorry and would refund my money. REFUND MY MONEY !!! That does not do me any good when I am stranded on an island in a foreign country that only has one other airlines coming in and they were full too. I talked for over 4 hours with AA pleading with them that they need to send in an extra plane or change there schedule from 2 flights a day to 3 flights a day long enough to pick up the slack for customers waiting to get off the island who HAD RESERVATIONS ! They continued to apologize and tell me they would refund my money. I was feeling like I was in the twilight zone. I could not believe this was the only option. The organization with AA was MISERABLE. They continued to use the Hurricane as their excuse for not getting me off the island for 2 weeks and this was not a valid excuse. It was as simple as sending in an extra plane and the problem would be resolved. I now realize AA is not going to do anything about this and it was up to me to get off the island. This is where my good friend (Canít remember his name) which is an employee at the Garraway started making calls for me and we worked together to find a way off the island. He was connected with the locals and found out there was one last ferry leaving the island at 5pm. He explained to me that I could take it to Guadeloupe and in Guadeloupe they have an international airport with more flights coming in and out so I would have a better chance getting a flight out. After hours and hours of waiting and talking to the officials running the ferry service I was squeezed on the ferry and off I went.

The island of Dominica was amazingly beautiful and the people were really nice but I still had a huge grin on my face as the ferry pulled away and I realized I made it off the island only the next day after the Hurricane hit. I took some fantastic photos of the islands as we pulled away and made a comment on how calm the water was. Well, that changed once we got away from the islands and in the channel that cuts between Dominica and Guadeloupe the waves became large and the boat ride was beginning to get rough. It only took 5 minutes of this and the throwing up began. I became extremely seasick and miserable. The only relief was that I knew this ride was only about another 75 minutes so I had to tough it out. The sun set and the moon was lighting up the night sky. As we approached Guadeloupe the seas got calm again and I was able to gain my health back. I felt worn out and still had to figure out where I would stay in the island of Guadeloupe and where the airport was. No problem I thought. Communication on Dominica was good because everyone spoke English but Guadeloupe is a French territory so everyone speaks French. I know broken Spanish but not a lick of French. Long story short my time on Guadeloupe was miserable and I got ripped off because I was not familiar with the exchange rate and once again American Airlines let me down. I get to the airport in the morning and all the other airlines ticket counters are open except American Airlines. They have a bunch of announcements taped on their windows but they are all in French. Now donít you think American Airlines is primarily flying American customers and to put all the announcement is French is a total lack of common sense by the company? I go to the information counter and English is the only language they donít speak. The airport at Guadeloupe made no effort to accommodate American citizens at all. After a lot of grief I figured out how to call the 1-800 number in the US for AA and found out a flight was leaving at 3pm to Puerto Rico. I am not going to list every single thing American Airlines did to lose me as a customer but I will tell you this corporation does not care about their customers and has become so large and powerful they have a monopoly and will never change. I have been a loyal customer for 20 years and at times I'm willing to pay extra just to fly American. Not anymore. They were going to leave me stranded on an island for 2 weeks because the amount of people stranded was too small to worry about and they did not want to spend the money. Itís all about saving money with these corporations and not customer service. I took notes the entire trip and plan on raising some serious hell with the management in the next few weeks when I get rested and have time to timeline all the events they put me through and request they reimburse me for the money I had to spend because they left me on the island.

Overall the chase was a success and I was able to document a powerful flash flood on a tiny island in the Caribbean. I missed the Cat-5 status in Mexico but it was all at night so I didnít miss seeing anything. The people of Dominica are amazing people and the islands landscape is breathtaking. I owe a huge thanks to the staff of the Garraway hotel in Roseau and would highly recommend this hotel to anyone going to Dominica.

I have added many photos to this blog and more can be found at the following link:
More Hurricane Dean Photos

Photos from the airplane:

Mike Theiss

Massive Flash Flood (MikeTheiss)
Photo of a massive flash flood caused by heavy rains in Hurricane Dean. Copyright Mike Theiss
Massive Flash Flood
A yellow shed sits surround by flooding waters (MikeTheiss)
Photo of a yellow shed sitting surrounded by flash flood waters caused by Hurricane Dean. Copyright Mike Theiss
A yellow shed sits surround by flooding waters
Locals watch as a massive flash flood rips through town (MikeTheiss)
Photo of locals watching as a massive flash flood rips though the town of Roseau, Dominica. Copyright Mike Theiss
Locals watch as a massive flash flood rips through town
Women walking by with Flash Flood in the background (MikeTheiss)
Photo of woman walking by with a dangerous flash flood behind here caused from heavy rains in Hurricane Dean. Copyright Mike Theiss
Women walking by with Flash Flood in the background
Photo of a floating refrigerator (MikeTheiss)
Photo of a refrigerator floating in the massive flash flood caused by heavy rains in Hurricane Dean. Copyright Mike Theiss
Photo of a floating refrigerator
Large Waves During Hurricane Dean (MikeTheiss)
Photo showing the first large swells and waves crashing against seawall in Dominica. Copyright Mike Theiss
Large Waves During Hurricane Dean
SUV driving through flooded streets of Dominica (MikeTheiss)
Photo of an SUV driving though the flooded streets of Roseau, Dominica. Copyright Mike Theiss
SUV driving through flooded streets of Dominica
View outside of hotel in Dominica (MikeTheiss)
Photo I took outside my hotel window as the first heavy rain band comes in. Copyright Mike Theiss
View outside of hotel in Dominica
Photo of the town of Roseau, Dominica (MikeTheiss)
Photo i took showing how all the houses are built on the hillside and why mudslides and flash floods are so dangerous here. Copyright Mike Theiss
Photo of the town of Roseau, Dominica
Locals preparing for Hurricane Dean (MikeTheiss)
Photo I took showing how the locals put there boats up on land so they would not get destroyed in Hurricane Dean. Copyright Mike Theiss
Locals preparing for Hurricane Dean

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20. mrhorinek
5:27 PM GMT on August 28, 2007
thank you for taking the time to show others how fortunate we are!
19. typhoonalleytc
5:41 PM GMT on August 25, 2007

great photo's, really sorry to hear about all the problems you encountered on your island storm chasing trip. I can relate to what you were saying about large corporations not caring about customer service, and only about saving MONEY!!! this a little off the weather topic, but it reminds me a whole lot of the issues with universal studios, as they trashed the classic tv show on dvd (leave it to beaver) after the second season!! a classic like that.
all because of not enough huge profit's, forget what the customers want. and it's because they spend too much money making the dvd's and put them on crummy 2 sided disc's, is why they need to make mountainous profits, someone like paramount needs to teach them how to do it the economical way or just buy the rights for the shows from them. sorry to get off the subject but that fiasco with A/A reminds me of the monopoly system. we on guam also deal with that kind of b/s pretty often. later thomas
18. Raysfan70
10:13 AM GMT on August 24, 2007
Good Morning {{Mike}}.

Have a Fabulous Friday. :-)

Thank You for sharing Your Story and Pictures with us.
Member Since: July 28, 2005 Posts: 138 Comments: 57354
17. MNTornado
6:05 AM GMT on August 24, 2007
Great photos of Dean affects. After seeing the destruction brought by flash floods in SE Minnesota this week, I'm not sure that I would have been brave enough to walk across that bridge as that women did.

Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 160 Comments: 19329
16. SouthernLady
3:09 AM GMT on August 24, 2007
Amazing photo's! Thanks Mike!
Member Since: August 27, 2005 Posts: 115 Comments: 29930
15. Mike Theiss , President
7:05 PM GMT on August 23, 2007

I have not been up to the Lake since I took those photos so I am curious to know too. I know a few weeks ago there was a report on the news about how we have been getting a lot of rain but it still was not helping. I am guessing levels are still low or lower but can't say for sure. I will try and get up to the lake soon and check it out. I think there are some bloggers from there on this board so maybe they could chime in on this. I am interested to find out.

Member Since: December 6, 2006 Posts: 110 Comments: 90
14. stansimms72
7:29 AM GMT on August 23, 2007
hey mike,

just wanted to let you know that i've really enjoyed reading your blog the past few hours. dr. masters mentioned your blog in his latest entry and I decided to check it out. glad you enjoyed your "adventure" and am glad you stayed safe. nothing to do here at work tonight so i've been reading past entries. very enjoyable and the pics are outstanding.

this next question is off topic so to speak and is for gamma (in case she happens to read this group of comments). you might know the answer to this as well mike. reading past entries about the water levels at okeechobee(sp)and how very concerned gamma was with them, has the level risen any since that blog entry was written? or, is florida still in a drought? very curious to know.

thanks in advance,

stanley simmons
13. Mike Theiss , President
5:01 AM GMT on August 23, 2007
I posted a video clip of the flash flood from Hurricane Dean on my YouTube Channel:

Mike Theiss
Member Since: December 6, 2006 Posts: 110 Comments: 90
12. Mike Theiss , President
5:00 AM GMT on August 23, 2007
Tunnel Simulation ??

Member Since: December 6, 2006 Posts: 110 Comments: 90
10. Mike Theiss , President
11:15 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
Wow! I finished the shots I took from the airplane and am extremely pleased with how colorful they came out. The Caribbean is an amazing place for blue colors.

Member Since: December 6, 2006 Posts: 110 Comments: 90
9. alphawulf
11:06 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
Great Photos !!
Cute Kid--what a winning smile
Thanks for the story of your adventure
Member Since: September 7, 2006 Posts: 19 Comments: 406
8. Hairball
8:56 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
Thanks for posting the details of your "adventure". The photographs are amazing!
7. jimcatchatorie
8:24 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
I agree avoid AA. I had to stand in line for tickets for 3 hours at Regan to get to the DR. People were missing flights b/c they were in line too long. All this on top of my massive hangover from the Jimmy Buffet concert the night before. Great pics of Dominica we are thinking about goign there for our hoenymoon in Feb. no storms then though.
6. pottery2
8:08 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
Good one Mike. Sorry your visit to these Islands was in the middle of a Hurricane though!!!. Come back again, when the sun is shining. Not even AA can spoil that.
Rory, in Trinidad.
5. splash3392
8:01 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
Great photos, thanks for giving us an up close and personal eye view.

We flew AA in late July from Seattle to Dallas/Ft. Worth then on to Orlando. At Dallas they change our gate 3 times and we were an hour late taking off. We were lucky. They canceled a flight to Hampton because the plane had a problem. the next evening we spoke with friends that flew through Dallas on AA the day after us and they had to make an emergency landing at Orland beause the nose wheel got stuck, then finally came down but they couldn't verify it was locked. Two hours flying in circles to dump fuel. Like I said our flight was a easy in comparison. We too are hesitating to fly AA.
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 650
4. sngalla
3:00 PM GMT on August 22, 2007
Great shots Mike! What an adventure you had. I'd be on AA's backside, too after all that. Good luck!
Member Since: February 18, 2003 Posts: 57 Comments: 5363
3. charlesimages
5:30 AM GMT on August 22, 2007
Amazing photos Mike! Really shows the power of the storm. thanks for sharing your encounter with us all.

Charles R.
Member Since: May 25, 2006 Posts: 347 Comments: 29278
2. redagainPatti
5:24 AM GMT on August 22, 2007
Welcome back home...sorry about the mess with the planes.. but even if you are in the USA.. you have problems this year. My mom spent five hours stuck in NC a month ago (July 23) when NorthWest had engine problems (they said!) however it cause her to have a four hour lay over in Memphis making a total of nine hours just sitting in the airports! Now given the time it takes to drive from NC to Miss. is about 12 hours.. she is going to take a car the next time and do with out the body seaches and other extra stuff we deal with any airplane travel.
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 128 Comments: 1558
1. n8pzg
4:22 AM GMT on August 22, 2007
Always love reading your accounts of storms seeing as how they all go around Wichita Kansas. Glad you are safe.
Member Since: November 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 199

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About MikeTheiss

Mike Theiss, President of Ultimate Chase, has documented over 25 Hurricane landfalls since 1987 and penatrated the calm eye of 8 of these Hurricanes !

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