Devastating situation are the two words my cousin Mario Leonard, who previously lived in Pasadena and worked for the City, used to described the impact of hurricane Irma as she barreled into our home, St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. For days I was not able to get in touch with him—ﬁlled with worry and helplessness. I broke into my happy dance when he posted on Facebook September 13, 2017:
Hi everyone and especially my California Maastricht family. Thank you so much for your concern. We appreciate and miss each of you! Lanalee and I are ﬁ ne and safe. Water intrusion and some minor damage to the roof and gutter were the extent of the structural damage. We are now in survival, recovery mode. While we’re without the modern niceties of Internet, Facebook, twitter, cell phone, cable, electricity and telephone, we are making the best of no doubt, a devastating situation. There are long lines for food and gas, but they’re getting shorter. Roads once blocked by fallen poles, wires and wind blown debris have mostly been cleared by dedicated public work crews and other government agencies.
Rooﬂess or damaged homes are now gratefully displaying blue tarps with Thanks and pride and worried victims can be seen at hilltops and ridges trying to ﬁnd cell signal to reach out to love ones to let them know they’re safe. St. Thomians have been battered by Irma, but their spirits have not been broken. It’s something to behold!
Lana was at work during the storm and was charge nurse on the medical ﬂoor that had to be evacuated after Irma burst a window and practically destroyed the ﬂ oor with her intense winds. From Lana’s account, it was a harrowing experience, but she and her co-workers responded courageously and were able to remove all of the patients safely. She worked from Monday thru Friday morning when she was ﬁnally able to catch a break and a ride to come home. She returned to work Saturday morning.
Since Islanders had to stay in place if at all possible, I rode out Irma at home mopping water in terror. This was my birthday after all. (Who ever heard of celebrating a birthday during a cat 5 hurricane?) Thankfully, I was able to enjoy one drink of Cruzan and Coke.) Hats off to the trees that surrounded the property. They were the true heroes in this area. It was agonizing watching them ﬁght off Irma’s intense winds hour after hour, literally sacriﬁcing their limbs to save lives and homes. Truly, I have a new found respect for trees ha I’d never thought was possible.
This cat 5, believe me was an experience to say the least. I’d have to say if I were to compare my two minutes in the Northridge earthquake to the nearly six hours with Irma when she was at her strongest (with the time between 1:45pm and 4pm being nearly worst that in hell) I’d have to give it to Irma. My home, St. Thomas, was devastated by Irma and there has been unfortunately some loss of lives and much property, but the people are resilient and determined to bounce back.
It’s estimated by the WAPA director that 90% of the electrical infrastructure was impacted. In addition, many homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Businesses including hotels and public institutions were also affected. Still, everyone has a good attitude and are adjusting as well as could be expected to their circumstances.
The local government, under the governor’s leadership is coordinating the recovery and is working extremely well with its federal partners. The future is uncertain, but the territory has been here before (Hugo and Marilyn in modern times) and is determined to bounce back as quickly as possible.
Prior to Irma’s landfall, Mario’s son Patrick started an “Anti-Irma Group” (AIG) on Facebook. Mario made numerous posts while in the midst of Irma:
Even though Internet was lost rather quickly, but I thought it best to write as if we were still online. It also kept me sane. From 7 am to 1:45 pm . . . Occasionally I’d venture close to the windows to take a photo or two. But even then I feared getting too close to the windows as the winds were relentless and arrived with unmitigating fury . . . Just watched a tree snap in half branches from the tree are pressing against the windows. Worried the remainder of the tree will fall into the house. . .Water leaking under the front door even with sandbags . . . Wind is howling in the distance now. Sounds like a freight train . . .Huge crash. Rushed to living room to look outside. The large tree at the base of the driveway fell into a parking space blocking the driveway, barely missing the unit downstairs. Thankfully my neighbor left to stay with relatives and her car was spared. . . OMG , it’s hell. I dropped to the ﬂoor in the kitchen bracing myself against the cabinets as the wind and rain tore through the air and land without conscience. I knew at any moment the house was going. . . It was as if Armageddon had begun and it was time to meet my maker. The wind and rain were spinning, moving so fast you couldn’t see more than 5 feet outside if that. The banging of wind blown items against the wall and roof and the tearing sounds of gutters and plywood, once shutters serving as defense from Irma were simply tossed into the yard.
The house is shaking. Wind throughout, visibility is zero all directions. Feels like the world is coming apart. Shit, now the wind is screeching. Halloween isn’t till next month. Hope Lanalee, Patrick, Melanie and Camille are hanging in there. Need a better way to communicate. It’s 2:44 Need to sleep. I sense Irma is not going to get any stronger. Six more hours to go. Now I’m exhausted. Got to get Irma out of my mind. I think she’s done her worst. I’m going to sleep.
I posted on Facebook: Cuz: I was so worried about both of you. Thanks for letting us know your hurricane journey I will share. Love you both. Take care. Mario responded: You’re welcome cuz. harrowing experience, but couldn’t let cat 5 Irma get away like a thief in the night. The story had to be told.
The aftermath to be continued. . .