Inhale, now exhale…those are the words that I whispered to myself as I heard that Hurricane Irma strengthened to a category five last week Tuesday and threatened the US Virgin Islands. Unlike other mainland residents, dodging hurricanes has always been a part of life. A true island girl always has a few hurricane stories under her belt.
As a little girl, my first hurricane was Hurricane David when I was only one year old. The next major hurricane was Hugo in 1989. Hugo took our home and many memories. For six months we didn’t have a home to call our own. Then came another major hurricane, hurricane Marilyn. This time, our home was spared but the islands were ravaged. It would be around 8 months before we got electricity again. Schools remained clothes for months. Having a cold drink with ice was indeed a luxury.
Although I had experienced many hurricanes before, when Hurricane Irma threatened, it felt different. First off, Hurricane Irma was a category 5 hurricane and the second strongest Atlantic storm or record.
Our last major hurricane in the Virgin Islands was a category 4 when it made landfall, we had never experienced anything like this. Secondly, this time I was bracing the storm from afar. Now a resident of the Washington DC area, although my physical body is no longer drinking in the year long island sun, my heart continues to beat to the songs of well tuned steel drums.
I spoke to my mom and we tried to put a plan in place for communication after the storm. In reality, I had been in these storms before. I knew it could be weeks before I spoke to her or even heard word that she was unscathed. I spoke to friends and other loved ones. They assured me that they had enough food and water for at least 4 days and then we all braced for my impact.
My mom and in-laws braced on a 32 square mile island gem, while I braced for impact in the suburbs of Maryland. I tried to act “normal” on Wednesday by making a homeschool lesson about, “What is a hurricane?”. It all just seemed so surreal. It was just 2 months ago that I has this conversation with some future travelers on my YouTube channel.
Before Hurricane Irma it has been 22 years since a last major hurricane hit. As you can read from the conversation above, I answered the question by mentioning that September is the peak of the hurricane season. Hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas on September 5th.
During and after the storm we stayed glued to the television trying to get any information that we could about the United States Virgin Islands. In subtle ways we were reminded that although a US territory, not being a part of the mainland can mean you have to turn to other alternatives for updates and information because, ratings count.
In the end mom is safe although the sunshine now peaks through her bathroom and living room ceiling. My second parents are safe and even walked an hour or more to my mom’s house after the hurricane (before streets were cleared) to ensure her safety. I love them so.
Schools are damaged and closed on St. Thomas. Critically ill hospital patients are being transferred and air lifted out as the only hospital on island can no longer adequately accommodate patients due to substantial damage.
It will be years before the St. Thomas and St. John are restored. The fact that tourism is the number one industry means many islanders will have to seek other ways to support their families. But Virgin Islanders are strong people.
Hurricane Irma destroyed our home but not our spirit.
VI residents past and present as well as others from all over the world have been pouring out their love and support to these American citizens.
Yes, the Virgin Islands is a US territory. And American tourists scrambling to get flights from the devastation are not fleeing towards US soil but rather, to the US mainland.
It will be years before the St. Thomas and St. John are restored. The fact that tourism is the number one industry means that many people will have to seek other ways to support their families.
So how can you help?
Over the last week, I’ve seen many individuals and organizations swing into action and my heart is full. There is so much to do and so many needs to be met. I don’t want to inundate you with options but from my little space on the internet, here are just a few ways that you can help.
I’ve set up the page below to collect funds to put towards helping public schools in St. Thomas get back on their feet with supplies and anything else that we can help with. We’ll start with Joseph Gomez Elementary School (where I attended), and move on from there.
If you’re unable to donate monetarily, please share this post. The more eyes that can see it the better. Also, sharing the actual link to the fundraiser to as many people would help a lot. Every share on Facebook can raise $37 dollars.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you. I thank you for caring. I thank you for giving. I thank you for reading. I thank you for sharing.
Edited to add: Hurricane Maria hit the Virgin Islands on September 20 as a category 5 hurricane. Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma.
The Virgin Islands are “Uniquely Caribbean and Historically American…” and we will rise again.
Rachel Maddow Show (9 minutes in)