September, 2017 will be remembered by many and has gone down in the history of the Virgin Islands, specifically September 6th.
Well…it is not because it is the day I made 35 nor is it because of my failure to meet my personal goal of getting my licence by this time. Truth is, most people for whom this date is now memorable have no idea these events in my life were occuring and I had no idea they would be overshadowed by a greater occurrence. No…this date is memorable in no part due to me, but to another female:
Irma, the category 5+ hurricane that ravished the Virgin Islands. She came through fast but hit hard making a salad out of mother nature and man-made structures alike. The devastation she left was incredible to say the least.
Thinking back I recall:
- The roads and hillsides littered with galvanize, cars, boats, trailers, appliances and other man made items while simultaneously being stripped of almost all leaves
- The fallen poles – wooden ones snapped like toothpicks and metal ones bent like bread bag ties
- The trees…practically every coconut tree was uprooted and laid to rest. Large, thick trees that stood proud for generations were knocked down and displaced.
- The homes lost…The lucky ones lost only their windows and/or doors but most were also stripped of roofs and even concrete walls fell. Of some buildings there was nothing left but a pile of rubble.
- The sudden loss of communication. The radio stations were all down as were phones and internet services. There was no way to contact relatives and friends to know how they faired.
- The pressure – there was an incredible assault on the ears and I remember thinking it was very possible that my eardrums would just burst
- The reports of lives lost…
I count myself among the fortunate. Where I weathered the storm with my love and his mom we lost a window and door but kept the roof and had 2 “safe” rooms in the house.
It was 3 days later before I got to travel to my home where my immediate family stayed and I was blown away by the amount of damage. Irma took the doors and decorated the rooms in “hurricane fashion.” Having had the kitchen windows blow out on us, spared from the assault of flying glass by the paper partitions, I could only imagine the terror my family experienced as the sliding doors and their shutters were sent through the house and the large pieces of furniture and appliances were knocked over and dragged about.
The wooden shante and its contents that stood at the entrance of our driveway and had survived many a storm had finally seen its last. It was hurled down the driveway and into the cars creating a baracade. My mother’s car survived with damages but my sister’s was written off.
I was very afraid that in entering the apartments I would come across bodies, temporarily relieved when I didn’t find (or smell) bodies then worried once again because I had no clue where my family was. I soon located them however (they had travelled during they eye of the storm to a neighbour’s then to my aunt’s) and was relieved that outside of the emotional trauma they must have experienced they were overall ok.
They definitely had a more terrifying experience as my mom and her friend were trapped in a closet where they had to seek refuge during the first half of the storm. My sister had to free them during the eye and they all had to climb over, under and around debree to get out of the house. In transit during the eye my mom’s friend fell down stairs, cutting his foot large enough to need stitches but there was no way he could get to a doctor. Luckily my sister as a paramedic was able to treat him enough to reduce the bleeding and minimize the chances of infection.
Even with the damages to our home outside of flooding and debree from the kitchen and living room, the 2 bedrooms and bathroom of my apartment were pretty much untroubled. My apartment was the least damaged which afforded my mom someplace to stay as her apartment took the most damage with the roof coming off and part of the wall coming down.
Irma left plenty to contemplate as she moved on to further her destructive course. She opened the mind to wondering and provided an opportunity for viewing life with a different perspective. Thoughts that came and things that stood out included:
- I didn’t need a lot of the stuff I had and lost and am really not that attached to things
- It’s amazing to see mother nature heal herself…watching the land slowly reclaim her greenery has been beautiful
- The landscape looks quite different. With the trees trimmed or removed and leaves gone you can see cliffs, hilltop curves and houses that you never knew were even there.
- Was Irma’s purpose destruction or an opportunity for a new beginning?
- Nights untainted by human light allowed the beauty of the night sky to really be seen.
- Cooking by coal pot, washing by hand, lack of electricity and drawing water from cisterns or wells gave us a little taste of life in our grandparents days
- True colours – good, bad and ugly were revealed: looters, those who helped or refused to help their neighbours, consideration of others while re-establishing one’s own comfort etc.
- When I think of Irma I imagine a giant child playing with her toy village – completely smashing one building then leaving the one right next to it with minimum damages or even untouched! How did she decide which to cause what degree of damage to? Likewise within homes she visited, she hauled away things as large as fridges but left wine bottles untouched on countertops.
- Birds – Some flamingos relocated to the Josiahs Bay pond and have been one of the sights I look forward to each day as I travel to work. Looking from the hillside all you can really see is the pond dotted with pink, no details but it’s still beautiful. Yesterday I was lucky enough to see them flying over the pond. Now that was something to see! In the days following the storm you could see loads of chickens settling in for the night in the leaf-less tree behind the apartment. In the shallow pool left in the driveway, a small flock of cute little birds seem to have taken up residency. I like watching their fast moving legs as cars drive in and out of the yard. There’s also another small flock of different cute birds that come on the porch each morning…they have a pretty song but are easily scared away so never stay very long. We even saw an emu twice! I was very worried as it was walking on a heavily trafficked hillside road and hope whoever it belonged to (they are not native to this region) could get it back to safety before it got hurt.
- The roads workmen (public works, electricity) are superheroes. I don’t think anyone has been working as hard or diligently as they have since the storm left and all now. If I were rich I would seriously pay for them all to have new homes and at least a week’s paid vacation wherever they want to go…they really deserve it.
- Big ups to the supermarket employees too. I wondered how many of them got to properly prepare for the storm leading up to it and how many had to leave broken homes after.
And still there was more
Just a week later came…
She decided in a matter of days to grow to a category 5 hurricane and reek havoc on Dominica and Anguilla before coming to visit. Although not as strong as Irma because she didn’t pass directly over us, for many Maria was more nerve recking. After Irma, you couldn’t help but think is this take 2? With every gust or rattle you wondered is that some part of the house going? Will all of the effort that was put into beginning repairing the country be lost?
Maria crawled, going into the night and the next day and for many it felt like she was just never going to leave!
Between Irma and Maria the islands in the Lesser Antilles saw a tremendous amount of destruction this hurricane season and these two females have joined and dare I say topped the ranks of hurricanes whose names will never be forgotten.
In former times hurricanes like these inspired songs…
- Wild Gilbert
- Hugo make me a Don
- Marilyn, what a hurricane
It will be interesting to see how Irma and Maria aka Irmaria’s legacy will be recorded. There’s already talks of books but as a lover of music I’m hoping and looking forward to what the musicians will bring.