Remember the post about being flexible with “plans”. Well here is another example of it! We had things figured for the next little bit. Eben was going to the USVI for some work. He would spend two weeks there, and then the girls and I would fly in. I would be working with the Department of Tourism, promoting the island, and we would be spending time with our friends. Then we would pack up and head to Mexico.
Hurricane Irma had her own plans for us.
Good thing we weren’t too dead set on those plans. We are now a few days since the hurricane has gone through, one week before the girls and I are set to fly out, and we have no idea what we are doing.
The Little I know About Eben and Irma
Eben flew in to St Thomas, USVI days before Hurricane Irma was predicted to hit. At that point she was a category 2 hurricane. (Not too scary, we had been through one of those before.) We figured, either the hurricane would miss the island and he could get to work as planned. Or, the island would get hit and he would be there to help friends. As the days grew closer to Irma’s arrival that hurricane just kept growing. I followed, my stomach in knots, as she grew from the previous Cat 2, to a catastrophic Cat 5. She ended up making history, being the largest recorded hurricane in the Atlantic.
Eben and our friends did the best they could. They prepped. They provisioned. And they found the safest “bunker house” possible. They were 2 couples, 2 individuals (Eben one of those), and two kids. They put up their hurricane shutters, got storm updates from me, and hunkered down. I am SO thankful that they had an Inreach sat device so that I could get information on what was going on, before and after the storm. The device has to be in direct sight of the sky for messages to go out. So there were no messages during the hurricane, as I told them “Don’t even think of going out there!”
It was 5 hours of nail-biting silence. And I think I almost peed my pants from excitement when I got the text with those two little words “we’re OK”.
From Eben’s Point Of View
I still don’t have all of the stories. We still don’t have good cell reception. We keep communicating via the Inreach. He only gets cell service when he goes to certain other parts of the island (hilltops). After the storm Eben told me, I didn’t sugar coat any of my messages to you. But I didn’t tell you all the scary details either. “It was a doozy”. From what I have gathered so far, they were in a two-story house. The top floor took damage but they were all huddled on the first floor. The ceiling and floors of their house were concrete but they could feel the vibrations of the storm through the floor. And lots of water starting making it was through the ceiling. Enough water that they ripped up the flooring to allow the water to drain down into the cisterns below.
They admit that they stepped out of their safe spot too early. They thought it was over. Once they felt the power of the wind they turned right around and went back inside. But in that time they got a glimpse of the devastation. Huge waves crashing into a normally calm bay. House missing roofs, others crumbling. Uprooted trees, and the ones left standing were now completely bare. The wind was howling and debris was flying.
They spent the first day after the storm cleaning up around their place. Getting things in order for Hurricane Jose that was predicted to be hitting only days after.
Getting around the island has been a slow process. The streets are littered with trees and downed power poles. Eben and our friends set out with chainsaws, clearing what was in their path, as they made their way to check on other friends and assess the damage. Eben told me that he was surprised with how much is still standing. But even if it is standing, that doesn’t mean it still has a roof or all four walls.
To date I have received only one picture from Eben. Internet is scarce, and when people get online their priority is to connect with family and friends, not necessarily to send pics.
I get from texts, and a couple of phone calls, that Eben is safe. Our friends are safe. The damage has touched everyone personally to varying degrees. Some have lost it all. Homes, businesses, sense of security. Some were more fortunate.
What They Need
From what we can assess at this point, St Thomas was hit hard, but others (like other Leeward Islands, and the BVI) were decimated. It will take a lot of work to rebuild. But at the same time seeing the way the community is coming together is amazing. People are helping each other, restaurants are opening and serving (for free) what ever food they have in stock. Relief workers are handing out water and supplies. People on and off island are coming together and helping in whatever way possible. This island will rebuild. And watching it do so is a beautiful process.
These islands continue to need help. They need food and water. Medical supplies and hygiene products are in high demand. They need evacuation help. Generators are essential as there is no news of when power will be back on. Sadly enough, they also need help to feel safe, from looting. In desperate times things can get scary and unsafe very quick. Money, donations, are needed for all of this relief.
And once it is rebuilt they will need tourism to return for their economy to get back on its feet. Tourism was the bread and butter of these islands.
On My End
I have been doing what I can from over here. My phone hasn’t been put down much. I have been a source of information, updates, and trying to connect people. I’ve been receiving calls, forwarding messages to families who have loved ones on island, and keeping the news updated so the islands can get the help they need.
The St Thomas FB forum has been one of my biggest sources of information (outside of the SAT messages and calls I have received from Eben and friends). Friends of ours, civilians, have been making huge efforts to bring supplies into the island, and evacuate people off.
The airport is down. The only way in or out is by boat.
I was extremely relieved at 11am yesterday when Jose Hurricane made a change in direction. It went further NW and stayed away from St Thomas, USVI. I had been on hourly watched, sending info to Eben about the storm via the sat device. I could breathe another sigh of relief.
What Does This Mean For Our Plan
People have been sending the kindest messages and asking what this means for us. The simple answer, we don’t know. We have many questions ourselves and are left waiting to figure them out. Will the girls and I still be flying in to the Virgin Islands as planned? We don’t know. The airport is currently not open for commercial flights, military only. I have no contact with the Department of Tourism, who paid for our flights. If we go, posts would no longer be about “family friendly St Thomas” but more so “#VIStrong”, and “A Community Rebuilding”.
Is it safe or smart to go down there? We still don’t know.
Is there enough food and water, or would we be depleting others resources? We don’t know. Some grocery stores are reopening. Ferries are starting to run between STT and STJ. USS boats, Navy boats, private boats, are all coming with supplies and relief. St Croix is sending help. PR is sending help. We have been offered a boat to stay on, as long as it is safe, that has a water maker, solar, and provisions.
Does Eben still have work? We don’t know. A lot of boats were lost in the storm. Some sunk. Some were badly damaged. He has no idea if the ones he was supposed to be working on are still afloat, of if canvas work is their priority.
If he doesn’t have work would he stick around? Probably not for much longer. But at the same time he is extremely helpful there at the moment. Has been volunteering his time cleaning up the roadways and helping friends. If he doesn’t have work it will also affect how much we can do in Mexico. But we have not even delved into that topic yet. Priorities are on the immediate.
We wait. Even if my flight is in a week. We wait. Even if we have no idea what Eben is doing. We wait.
It’s all we can do really.
We wait and we keep helping where we can. Eben is helping by being there, on the ground, hands on. And I am helping as much as I can from afar.
Thank you for all your messages, your love, and support. I will keep updating as I get news.
How You Can Help
Our friends Tara and Sasha, of Pizza Pi (the pizza boat) have started a fund where people can donate and funds go 100% to getting supplies on island, and people off. Their funds are going to the USVI.
And our other friends Brittany and Scott, have created another donation page for the BVI. The funds they are amassing are hugely important and helping a lot of people already.
Click on the links and help. Every dollar makes a difference.
We have a February trip to STT and STJ planned.
I suspect it will be a while before I know if the house we rented on STJ is still standing…..
I can be patient but in the back of my mind, I wonder if I should make alternative arrangements sooner rather than later. Reports are the condo complex on STT sustained only minor damage so spending the entire trip there might be an option.
I have heard some very scary reports from STJ (armed robberies, looting) and very positive reports (residents clearing their own streets, working together, restaurants feeding the masses).
We have a trip planned to St. Thomas over Christmas break. 12/28-1/2/18….I emailed the owners of the house we rented to know their thoughts.
We’re in the same boat as far as not knowing if we should cancel this whole trip or wait it out a bit?
It took so long to plan this vacation and (coordinating with another family) that I’m
so conflicted and upset about what to do.
I can’t imagine it will be ready for tourists in only a few short months?!
Our hearts and prayers are with all of those islands that were hit!
I’d say, if you can, wait a little bit before making any decisions. Tourism is their main source of income, and the islands are doing everything they can to get back up and running so that they can return to making a livelihood, and making the islands the paradise that tourists love. We are still hoping to get down there. We are very much playing the “waiting game” right now. But if we can, if it’s ok, we will be there asap.
I planned to some to Grenada this winter. I’m thinking about coming now, but not to rent a boat, rather to try to help in some way.
That sounds like a great idea. Every little bit helps.