September 6th, 2017 will be a day I’ll never forget. Something I never could have prepared myself for or every something I ever thought I’d experience happened, Hurricane Irma.
I mean, I have heard of major storms and I have seen the aftermath of things like Sandy and Katrina and most recently, Harvey. But experiencing Hurricane Irma was something I was NOT prepared for nor was I ready.
I’m a desert girl raised in Arizona. The worst storms I experienced growing up was a haboob or a bad monsoon. Sometimes the occasional thunderstorms when visiting family in Minnesota/Iowa or the occasional snow storms during college and graduate school, but those were nothing compared to a hurricane.
Preparing for the Storm
When I returned to St. Thomas, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what was about to happen. Within one week of returning, my life was not longer about preparing for the new school year, meeting my new co-workers or reconnecting with past friends. This new year was all about hurricane preparations.
Hurricane preparations, what My first weekend back to the island was spent semi-normal with some fear of making sure my new roommate and I would be well stocked with bottled water and non-perishable items. AND then within a few short days, 2 to be exact, my first day of the 2017-2018 school year, September 5th, wasn’t all smiles and happiness. It was fear, worry, and lots of wooden boards. No, I’m not joking. I spent the first day of school watching my apartment get boarded up with hurricane shutters.
Hurricane Irma was coming right at us and not slowing down. Hurricane Irma was on the verge of smacking St. Thomas, St. John and many other Caribbean Islands right dead in the face and she wasn’t going to stop. In fact, she has become known as one of the strongest hurricanes on record. Some people are saying she should have been a Category 6 not a 5, but regardless of what category, she was strong, ruthless and she was going to make landfall.
This is where my words fail me. To try and put my experience of watching my life become nothing but dirty water, bare trees, houses ripped apart, and an island turned into complete disarray, is next to impossible. I’m not even sure if words truly will portray the true wrath of Hurricane Irma.
During the Storm
One day, it was brunch on the beach. The next day, boarding the apartment. Then finally…September 6th, 2017, approximately 9:00 am hit and everything went dark. Power was officially cut off and Hurricane Irma was on the horizon. By 11:30 pm, fear and worry became my new reality. My old roommate, new roommate and I were sitting in my room watching the winds pick up, the sounds become more violent, and rain water suddenly started making it’s way through the windows.
Migrating to the living room, the sounds and winds were only getting worse, stronger and more terrifying. By 1:30 pm, we are in fully hurricane mode as Hurricane Irma’s eye was located only 30-40 miles north of the island of St. Thomas. Here I am, I’m sitting in FULL DARKNESS, listening to wind strengths measuring 150-180 MPH and the sounds of breaking tree limbs, crashing roofs, and crumbling noise of mental. The noise was more than anything I could have imagined and fear.
Trying to describe these noises is nearly impossible. But, after 4 hours of listening to the winds and crashing noises, things slowly died down. My heart stopped beating at the rate of a speeding race car. I must say, I’m glad I had the friends I had to sit with me during this experience. We tried our best to stay occupied with books and the occasional laughter. We kept each other strong, even with the ANNOYING sound of our bathroom door NOT CLOSING. Seriously, this was the most obnoxious sound during the whole hurricane for me…constant opening then SLAMMING closed. This is where part of our laughter occurred.
Being resourceful, we found my exercise bands and proceeded to wrap and tie the bathroom door to both my bedroom and my roommate’s bedroom doors. It didn’t fully stop the slamming noise but made it less loud. So basically, you can say that we tried to muffle the slamming noise, which made the wind noise even worse. I guess we needed to pick the less annoying sound to muffle during this treacherous storm. I wish I was lying but removing the sound of a slamming door actually made things less scary.
When the noise of terrifying winds appeared to have slowed down, we removed our bums from the couch and opened the bedroom doors. My room faired well, with only some water making it’s way through the glass panels. (and no,
Finally…it was time to venture out of the apartment into the complete UNKNOWN. The immediate reaction of the sight I saw from my porch exiting the back was heart-breaking. All the Greenery… gone. Nothing that I once knew remained. My view was changed. Houses appeared out of no where. All the beautiful 100 year old coconut trees and palm trees were gone. Roofs have nothing but 2×4 studs showing. The water is overly turquoise with a hint of brown dirtiness. The view is basically all shades of brown, nothing but bareness, and all things sadness. My view was no longer my view. Everything I knew from last year was destroyed and gone. I only saw utter destruction.
This was the bare minimum of what was truly seen across the island. And to be honest, I faired well throughout the storm. Compared to many friends recounts of Irma, I knew that I was BEYOND blessed. My home was spared, my car survived, and I came out alive and physically okay.
My home had minimal damage. We lost our shed door and our shed’s roof, which were blown completed off and the downstairs apartments had significant water damage but nothing that was unrepairable. We had many of our beautiful trees, that created a glorious drive from the main road to our home, laying completely across our main driveway blocking our access. Luckily, this was a simple fix with a chainsaw and several hours of hard labor. We were more than blessed that our driveway and main access to town went relatively unscathed.
By Friday, all three of us were getting extremely stir crazy and going a little shelter nutty. We were ready to get out of our apartment.
As for the island, so many houses were torn apart and torn to pieces. Telephone poles were snapped in half/thirds, laying across/over the roads onto opposite lines and several were not even recognizable as telephone poles. Cable and phone wires splayed across majority of the roads and were hanging over roads. It was truly hard to wander into town and stare at the destruction and damage Irma caused. Plus, in addition to the poles and home damages, trees and bush were all covering much of the roads and sidewalks. It was truly a heartbreaking sign. I think leaving 48 hours post Irma was a God sent, as we were no longer stuck in our apartment, but also life shattering. I didn’t know truly what I was about to experience.
Overall, Hurricane Irma came and went in full fury. She took away what I called home and took away the life I once knew, but she also gave me so much strength I never knew I had in me. She blew apart the Caribbean and headed straight for Florida, but there was one thing I knew for sure, Irma was not going to sabotage my hopes, my spirits or my life. Nor was she going to tear down the island of St. Thomas. The people of St. Thomas are beyond resilient. This I can say. I will go into more detail upon my next blog post. One blog post is not nearly enough to describe in utter detail the events of these “swirls” a.k.a. hurricanes.