Experiencing two Category 5 hurricanes, within 2 weeks of each other, on an island, is an experience that is hard to put into words. My heart was broken when I first saw the damage and destruction left by Hurricane Irma when she finally arrived on September 7, 2017. Our neighborhood was unrecognizable. Debris covered cars, roads, houses. Telephone poles laid in the road with the cables dangling in the lingering winds. Houses were turned into confetti thrown along the mountain side, and all the leaves on the trees were gone. After being stuck in our neighborhood for 4 days, before neighbors could clear the road from the other side, I could not believe what I was seeing.
My thoughts were with our friends, and I worried about how their houses handled the 187mph sustained winds with 228mph gusts. As we drove around, we began running into people, on the side of the road, outside their houses, along parts of the road where people gathered because the area was impassable by most cars. We are lucky. We have 2 Jeeps, and 1 of them made it. So we were able to drive around more than most. Slowly, we were able to account for everyone and we began to adjust to the new way of life post-Hurricane Irma.
Less than 2 weeks later, Hurricane Maria flooded whatever Irma didn’t destroy. After the 24 hour curfew was lifted, we were able to leave the house we were staying at to try to gather more supplies. The flooding had begun to reside, but the roads once again were impassible and large sections of the road were missing.
As we drove further down the road, we came across a company of Marines, who were clearing the road for vehicles to be able to pass. A Marine approached our Jeep and apologized to us for any inconvenience and informed us it would be a few minutes before we could pass due to the debris in the road the Marines were clearing. This was a moment of overwhelming emotions for me. I was happy to see the Marine helping us because I knew we desperately needed their help. I was scared that the destruction was so catastrophic, that we needed the help of the Marines. I was definitely still in shock over the situation. I remember tears coming to my eyes as I thanked the Marine for his help, and I could tell he noticed the joy on my face by the smile I had.
Previously, I had been on hurricane duty six times with the National Guard, but this was the first time I was the civilian receiving the help rather than providing the help. I am now safe and staying with family in Florida after flying off island on the first Delta commercial flight leaving the island. My focus is on continuing to help the US veterans in the United States Virgin Islands. Saturday, October 7th and October 14th I was at the VFW Post #2185 at 2136 Sherman Ave Panama City, FL for a donations and supply drive. All donations and supplies will be sent to Jonathan Rich, Director of VI4Vets, who is on the ground in St Thomas and will coordinate the distribution. Thank you for your support!!