Hurricane Irma – Sept 2017 – The British Virgin Islands
This is a recount of our experience of Hurricane Irma. Friends and family, near and far are asking me questions and so, I thought it would be more practical to put the tale down in one place, rather than have to talk about it over and over, which quite honestly, I don't think I could bear.
This is only our experience, I know others, have gone through a much more terrible ordeal than Del and I., but as I say, I am writing this down for family and friends and to whomever else might be interested. These are my notes from my diary.
All I know is one day, Tuesday, Sept 5th, we were happy, and the next day, Sept 6th, we were shocked, devastated, lost and terribly sad., along with I'm sure, everyone else on the island.
Tuesday, at Happy Hour, drinking wine with our new English friend, David. Talking about the upcoming hurricane, laughing about, yet warily, how does one prepare for 180 mph winds? (turned out they were gusts over 230 mph) I made fish and chips, comfort food. We are all boarded up, cats indoors and we wait. I will never make a joke about Emergency Wine supply again.
Only just a few days ago, my friend, Lynne and I went for a walk around Little Mountain, then made our way across Long Bay. I had a wonderful swim and used my underwater camera, taking photos of silver and yellow striped fish, I was happy! Lynne was happy, how did we know this would be our last walk together this year. We were carefree, but that's all changed now.
Wednesday, Sept. 6th. - Irma arrives.
The wind and rain have started. Making coffee before the power goes off. The BVI Electricity Corporation will switch off the power when the winds begin to hit 60 mph (I think) as a precaution in case of live downed power lines.
I'm beginning to feel afraid, my stomach is topsy-turvy. we've experienced hurricanes before, without too much damage. The valley of Josiah's Bay is a natural shelter from high winds and they usually pass overhead. Yet someone mentioned this one would be different, coming at us from the north, not the south as per usual and of course, the 180 mph winds.
There's continuous sharp knocks on the roof as debris falls from the hillside, the gusts are rattling the sliding glass doors, from inside. I pray they won't shatter. I wish big bad Irma would calm down and go to sleep.
Everyone is praying today, even me, praying, respecting Mother Nature. It's going to be the longest day.
The sudden explosive winds, almost like a tornado (later, we heard, there were tornadoes) are the most alarming and the wind really does howl; howl like a wild, crazed animal.
Kitties, Scrappy and Indie are curled up together in one bedroom, Mama Ilsa in the other. I'm envious, I wish I could do that, but I'm too much on edge. I'm holding my breath, and keep reminding myself to breathe.
Thank goodness for my husband, he's so practical, capable and a steady thinker. One of those guys who if he's got a swiss army knife and a sling shot, you know you'll be safe. He begins to madly apply his Dewalt drill and board up some of the interior windows with plywood.
The storm has just begun, the worst is yet to come. I remember the local saying, “Get ready for the worst, hope for the best, accept what God sends.”
Never known time to go so slow. Irma has cranked up several notches, we're holed up in our side bedroom. So afraid of the glass shattering. The house beside us, we see the tiles are ripping off, as we peek through the slats of wood that are screwed onto our window. Trees are snapping all around us. Wow! Our ears are popping, pressure in our heads, never had that happen before. My head is in a vacuum, throbbing at the temples.
Can't see anything outside now, its a whizzing white roaring blur.
We hear our shingles ripping off, and god, maybe something else. The sound is like a monster licking the roof.
Del has locked the bedroom door as the wind is pushing it from the living room. And has again applied wood and the screws with the Dewalt drill.
Pacing can't sit still.
It was here that we lost all track of time.
I cannot begin to describe the past 6 hours. We've never been so terrified in our entire lives.
It's a War Zone, looks like an atomic bomb went off.
Now we are huddled in my tiny car, in the carport which is under the house. Our roof is gone, I don't know how the kitties are. And its still going on, Afraid, afraid.
Sunday, Sept 10th (a few days after Irma)
Drinking coffee in our roofless living room, moon above. Candles flicker in the breeze, it's peaceful, beautiful, until I turn my gaze to the valley, to the view, the view I used to love and admire.
Our beautiful, green, lush valley is gone, obliterated. Not a tree, bush, flower or blade of grass. Only brown, bare hillsides. Everywhere is devastation, and the whole island is like this.
Been sweeping glass and dirt up for days, trying to salvage what we can, to try and function with some kind of normalcy. Do we want to stay? Everything has changed.
Irma changed everyone's world. A state of emergency has been declared, UK sending aid. Looting has begun.
The morning after the hurricane, we were literally in shock. Every building is exposed in some way to the elements.
Charlie's place, roof, beams, shutters and windows gone, Michael H's the same. Bob & Roberta's beautiful house, gone entirely, as well as the 2nd A-frame House, the house next to us. Thank God they were not here. Serendipity and house next to it, not too bad, just some roof tiles, and a wall, probably cause they are a bit more sheltered.
We did not realize there were so many buildings in the valley, as there's no more privacy anymore, all natural covering foliage gone.
They say electricity may take a year to be fixed as they can't repair what's not there.
Ants are now trying to move into the fridge, we've eaten most things from it. We'll be moving onto the tinned food soon.
Oh, great. Now it's raining which is a cruel thing when you don't have a roof.
Recollection of the Wed when Irma struck(as I lost awareness of the days)
I recited the Lord's prayer, over and over trying to remember the words, while I huddled in the shower, as the storm raged over head. I don't know why, it just happened and it was comforting somehow.
Del stood in the bathroom doorway, chucking pillows at me, telling me to cover my head.
He later told me he was watching the roof beams suck up and down, getting ready to huddle in the shower with me.
Then it began to rain, howling, growling, I don't know how to explain the sounds and the water is spilling, pouring above us. Indie starts to cry, a meowing fear that she's never made before. They both emerge from under the bed, Indie goes behind the toilet and Scrappy into the closet.
Then one of the hurricane shutters blew, it was terrifying. Would the main one hold? The one that covered the sliding glass door? It was sucking in and out, Irma's huge forceful fingers were trying to fucking rip it off!!! I felt sick, I wanted to vomit. She was like Ursula, huge, and ugly wanting to kill us, trying to find us and wrench us from our hiding place. And she kept on and on. I shouted, “please Stop! Go Away!” Del and I locked eyes in fear, wondering if we were going to die.
When all of a sudden, like someone flicked a light switch, she stopped dead.
Like a curtain had been raised, the sun peeped out and there wasn't even a breeze.
Very tentatively, Del unscrewed the barrier of our bedroom door, glass and debris all over the living room, the cats stay hidden as we closed the door. Stepping onto the balcony, the devastation lay before us like a nightmare.
All people in the valley could be seen surveying the land in shock. Everything was broken, is broken. A miracle that so many survived. Irma had devoured everything.
My head was pounding, again I felt nauseous. I stood stunned and couldn't move, studying the kill of the landscape, while Del was running around checking things out. He went down below looking in the carport and checking on the vehicles.
Amongst the white haze, it was so silent and eery. No one moved or spoke, the earth stood still.
Then someone shouted, “IT'S THE EYE!! GET BACK IN, SHE'S COMING BACK!”
Del grabbed my hand as I sobbed, he said, “we're getting in the car, nothing's touched in the carport, even the rake is still standing.”
We scrambled over fallen tree branches, glass and wood to get inside as the wind began to pick up again. Del ran back into the house grabbing pillows which he pushed inside the car to pad all around the windows. Then Irma continued her rage as the car rocked and bounced for what seemed like an eternity.
We did not emerge until the next morning. Whatever had been left before the eye was certainly gone now. Before the eye, our furniture was inside tumbled against one wall, after the eye the furniture was all outside.
Monday, Sept. 11Th - Day 5
My fingernails are filthy, we drink from dirty cups, cleanliness has gone out the window with that bitch, Irma. I hate her. Our Caribbean retirement dream, she sucked up and spat it out with a heartless fury all over the valley, grinding and squeezing everything to a pulp, pounding out every bit of colour.
Del is going to try and patch the roof today, so we don't have rain indoors.
On Thursday, the morning after, it was heart-warming to see Lynne and Lash emerge calling our names from behind the rubble of the ruins of the house next door, they walked from over a mile away as all roads are impassible.
Everyday, there's more dirt, more insects, every creature is displaced, even grasshoppers, cause there's no grass, no bush. And because we now have no windows, no screens they all are moving in. Ants are everywhere, mosquitoes too.
Trying to dry what books are left in the sun. Most of them are garbage. Brand new Queen size mattress is soaked, stained, hauled it onto the balcony to try and dry in the sun too.
There's a night time curfew because of the looting.
Del, David and I will try to go to Riteway supermarket tomorrow, someone told us they were open again. Not sure we can get there though.
Every photo and item of meaning that I chose to bring here, I'm either trying to preserve or throw away. Crying again.
Del came back from town today, totally depressed. The island is fucked! He said. Every person is out of work, there's garbage, debris, smashed vehicles and flipped boats everywhere. The yachting industry is screwed, which is where most people work.
No building material shops open, banks are closed, our bank is gone, a huge line up for petrol and grocery store, a living nightmare, only accepting cash.
We want to board everything up, go to Martha's Vineyard, (Charlie's offer) Toronto, the UK.
In one day, your whole life can change. I'm so sad, can't stop crying.
Helicopters flying overhead, I almost wish I was one of them, a woman with a mission, not a woman whose a victim.
Later, Fuck, Del gone with Horacio after 5 wines, to go and help him on his roof. Shit Man!!
I told him not to go, told Horacio, BUT he's had 5 wines, he can't do that!! Of course, no one listens to me, anyway he's fine, Whew!
Tuesday, Sept. 12th
A week ago at this time, Lynne and I were on a walk round Little Mountain and then a glorious swim at Long Bay, I wonder if we'll ever get the opportunity again.
Del removing yurt deck, cause our yurt is gone, using the timber to board up the roof.
Troops being deployed, UK even sending policemen, cause of the looting. I'm glad we're in the country and not in town.
Wed. Sept 13
Will try to make it through today without tears. Still finding belongings that have been destroyed, still sweeping up glass in hidden places.
It's one week since Irma. David and Del left this morning 9:20 a.m to line up at Riteway for supplies. I'm still cleaning, cleaning, I don't know if cleaning is the right word, cause nothing will clean, it's more like trying to make things less soiled. I'm wondering, can I ship the cats to Bob & Roberta?
There's a luxury yacht parked in the Bay, how effing annoying! (later we found out it was Sky News, talking to the Tamarind Club)
Please no, it feels like I'm getting a bladder infection.
cleaned floor again, fridge again, as fridge was full of debris, leaves etc and stove.
Going to try and get to the washing machine, but the path is thick with lumber, galvanize, even someone's mattress. No I cannot budge anything back there, it's a tangled mess, weighs a ton.
They've returned with petrol, for the generator and other supplies, beer, wine veg, eggs OJ etc. They were both handed a free coffee travel mug, and told, “thank-you for shopping at Riteway!” ha ha, Where else are we going to shop!! Everywhere is Gone or CLOSED.
The days seem so long, the nights are hot, hot, with no fan.
F*, Del had to drive me to town to find a pharmacy, bladder infection getting painful, the ride in was surreal, soldiers carrying rifles everywhere like a war like zone. Grid lock traffic, why are so many people out in their vehicles? Everyone is affected, there's not one building left untouched by damage. Boats on the road, vehicles flipped etc. Etc. It's so depressing.
The first pharmacy was closed, the 2nd one open with an armed guard. The pharmacist gave me pain killers only, but please no, I need the antibiotic! But you need a Dr.'s prescription, he replied. But I can't see a Dr., there's nothing open, Please !!! Anyway, he gave me the drugs, and it was only $7. Thank Christ.
It's now evening, people are driving around all over, past curfew. We can see lights on the ridge road, down the valley, all over WTF? There's no privacy now. We sleep fitfully, without any proper security, no doors to close, except our bedroom door.
Thurs. Sept. 14, - DAY 8
Had a bad night, raining, water in our bed and rooms again. Shopvacing this morning, Thank God for the generator, although it's making weird, unhealthy noises.
OMG IT'S POURING!!!! STOP PLEASE!
Everything we dried out is wet again.
Trying to get a weather update on the radio and they're playing Christmas songs in Sept., during an emergency.
FLOW, the service provider (and ha ha we don't have service from them!) but they are sending us text messages to remember to wash our hands so we don't contract diarrhea. Wouldn't it be more sensible to send a weather report??? Today is our lowest day.
Sadly, some people we know have raided Bob's tool shed. He has some very expensive tools and they said they needed them, but we knew they didn't. WTF!! Bob and his wife have lost everything! According to another neighbour, they made several trips to his tool shed. Sadly, this neighbour isn't much better, he's begun going through sites and picking out furniture, and this is a man whose house is intact, he doesn't need anything.
TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR....can't take much more.
A well meaning friend, texted me from the safety of Canada and said to me, try to remain positive, there's only 1 mm rain forecast. (texting doesn't happen often at all, only every couple of days and only for about an hour, all cell phones do not function)
HA HA! Don't know what forecast she was looking at but it certainly wasn't accurate.
Hard to stay positive, when you have no glass, no doors, a tarp for a roof and torrential rain is coming after surviving a Cat 5 hurricane, the most terrifying experience of your life. We later heard that IRMA was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded. No disrespect to my friend, but she has no BLOODY IDEA!
We have no phone service, just the occasional wifi signal from next door.
Dear Bob & his wife are coming to our rescue, as we can't buy any roofing materials anywhere, they are sending up some wind & water, which is a sticky roof tile, now Del just has to find T1-11 or something similar to patch the roof.
As soon as it stops raining, then Del can nail timbers up on the roof.
Friday, Sept. 15 – Day 9
Dogs have taken over Charlie's place, afraid to walk up there as they've taken on a pack mentality, they bark at me on my own balcony. Dogs barking, howling all night constantly. Pre-Irma, of course, dogs barked but within their small domain, their immediate surroundings, their treed in seclusion. But now, with the shrubbery, trees stripped bare, the boundaries are gone, they see everything, everyone. There's no privacy, they bark at anything, hard to sleep through all the howling. Thank God, Del found the mosquito net. A huge blessing as the mosquitoes have tripled in population with all this rain
It's raining again, which delays the construction of our temporary roof. Can't leave until our place is secure from the elements and possible looters which we are witnessing everyday. The cats don't care and are comfortably sleeping soundly on top of my suitcase.
Del's beloved Fry cowboy boots are no longer a pair, one is missing in action.
Our son's keyboard, ruined, my Canon printer ruined, Epson scanner, ruined, fax machine, Del's ipad, our CD player. Belongings scattered everywhere. Even though they were all covered up with a large tarp that was weighted down, Irma crashed through that spare room and threw all the contents all over the place, there was even glass inside the printer which weighs over 60 lbs. Glass in the fridge, kitchen cabinets, glass everywhere.
My stomach constantly upset, either from the anxiety or antibiotic, really don't know.
We turn on the Jenny (generator)for an hour here and there to keep our fridge cold, but things still go off quickly.
Our once beautiful view is now ugly and ravaged. Will it ever be the same? Did I mention the yurt is gone.
Later, rain still hammering down on the tarp, it's so loud. It seeps slowly, dripping into many buckets and pots on the floor. I now hate the rain, it dampens our spirits and slows our work.
I've tried to dry out our books, but they're dirty, wet, pages glued together. I think of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the temperature of which books burn. As we've begun burning debris, (when not raining) burning wood, and surrounding crap around us, including ruined books (makes me cry)
Horacio has turned on his Jenny, hopefully his wifi will work.
Sweet Jesus – such hard rain, it's scary, leaks everywhere, it's roaring on the tarps, please, please hold.
It is only 10:15 a.m.
Del trying to nail up roof shingles in spare room, as water is now pouring in and the floor is flooded, coming through to the living room now.
1:15 p.m. SUN FINALLY
Del is slotting wood panels, cut from yurt deck, under the tarp and hammering to beams which he salvaged from the destroyed house next door.
Sat, Sept 16 – Day 10
Our propane bottle ran out, luckily Del found another one up at Charlie's destroyed place.
Hardly slept at all last night, dogs howling and it was so hot without a fan. Getting used to living rough, raw, washing laundry in the sink with same water as after washing dishes, that we bucket from the cistern.
Del managed to find and put up the yurt's doors at the entrance to the living room and utilized the yurt deck beams to create the frame for new glass windows, glass from sliding doors from another abandoned house. Also, managed to put up a few more panels on the roof. So grateful, that we can now shut the doors to the outside.
People ask us, what we're going to do, we really don't know.
Sunday Sept 17 – Day 11
The cats bring me joy in an awful situation, yet at the same time I know I have to find homes for them, breaks my heart.
Lots of rain in the night. David is a very good friend, he's helped out our morale and brings us news both good and bad. The latest bad news is that there could be another hurricane here on Tuesday. What a sick circumstance! Are you kidding me? NO!!!!!!
I don't know what we're doing today, more clean up, that's all. So tired and fed up. Dogs growling on our balcony last night, so I don't want to let the cats out. Del has the place all sealed up now, he's amazing. But isn't waterproof until the Wind & water arrive. Took the only unbroken sliding door from next door to fit onto our spare room.
Still sweeping glass. Trying to get creative with cooking from tinned goods.
Birds, bees, insects are all lost. There's nothing for them to eat. Except the Ants, they're everywhere, thriving!!!!!!!!!!!
Monday, Sept. 18 – Day 12
If it weren't for the bombed out landscape it would be a beautiful morning. The sky is pink and blue with fluffy white clouds.
A Hurricane warning has been issued, DEAR GOD! Hurricane Maria is due to hit Tuesday or Wednesday. If it weren't for the cats, I'd say to Del, lets leave today. But he's also planning on purchasing T1-11 today to finish patching the roof. The line ups at the only building supply store will be diabolical as today will be their first day opening after Irma. And also the day before another hurricane.
I forgot to mention that Day 2 or 3, finding other people's photos in my kitchen, sodden and dirty, didn't recognize them. Someone's mattress lies against the back of our house, broken furniture strewn across the hillside. There's even a freezer and some vehicles. So lucky we had the carport, under the house where Irma did not touch.
Jocelyn's house across the valley, looks like a colourful display of pic up stix, the children's game.
This morning is the first time I've heard a peacock, I haven't heard them since Irma. And there was an Emu walking up Bob's driveway, don't know where the emu came from.
Staring at the ants, I'm in a trance, a daze, can't stand the idea of another Hurricane.
Del repaired some of our furniture, place was starting to look somewhat ok, I don't know what's going to happen with Maria.
Del has been gone now for 4 hours, trying not to worry.
He came back with plywood, no T1-11 anywhere. He's screwed it over every window, every door and has bolted another part of our roof down. David came for dinner, felt eery as he was here for dinner the night before Irma as well.
In bed by 7:30 p.m. As it gets dark so early, they predict there will be no electricity for a year.
Tues Sept. 19 – Day 13
This diary is so dreary, days are filled with waiting, either for building materials or good weather.
Hardly slept was awake since 3 a.m. Worrying, having nightmares, I'm exhausted and its only 9a.m.
Everyone in the valley is working hard, preparing for Maria in between heavy showers. Del gone to help Horacio with cutting up galvanize to create new shutters as his blew away in Irma. The valley is ringing with the sounds of hammering, electric saws, drills and droning Jennys.
So many mosquitoes, it's crazy.
Jesus, we've just had news that Maria is also a Cat 5.
Wed. Sept 20 – Day 14
We've been in my car in the carport for 12 hrs now. It's 6:30 a.m and we're both so god damned exhausted and the storm is still in a mad rage all around us. I fear the worst upstairs. All Del's attempts to make the house secure have most probably been destroyed. I'm so so sad and tired. What's the point anymore? What are we going to do?
It's a miracle, even the tarp is still up. It's still frightening, its still blowing a gale and the flapping and snapping of the plastic is threatening, sinister..the cats are freaked by it, so am I. We tried to nap, but its so noisy, too startling. The spare room is flooded again.
Thurs Sept 21 – Day 15
Making tea by candlelight. Feels like the weather is trying to kill us.
The wind and rain hammering is giving me anxiety attacks. Can't sleep, all i want is sleep. We haven't had a good sleep since before all this started.
I don't like to share with Del or my family about my anxiety each time it rains heavily and the strong winds, they're the worst, I'm having heart palpitations.
A positive is, that its good not to be in the car trying to sleep, the mattress is comfy, even though its still wet.
The pattering and hum of about 15 or so different pots, cans, plastic containers, flower pots to catch rain indoors, rings rhythmically as Scraps is affectionately sitting beside me while I sip my tea. The kitties make me smile, they're lovely therapy.
Went back to bed at about 4 am , finally an unbroken sleep til now.
I just realized today is Mum's 90th birthday.
Trying to remain positive,......but the landscape is too depressing and now mold is growing everywhere, on the ceiling, the walls, and our clothing, cause I can't get anything to dry. We walked to the beach to get away for a spell, but that was even more depressing...argh. A barren wasteland on a beach with muddy water.
Friday, Sept 22 – Day 16
Yesterday was our lowest day. Today we're trying to clean up AGAIN! It's all such a drudgery, waiting for roofing materials, everyone is waiting.
Sat. Sept 23 – Day 17
Didn't sleep a lot again. It was so hot.
Many people have left the island as they no longer have a job. Neighbour above us has gone, left everything behind. He let David take his washing machine and told us we can take anything that is useful. Many landlords are losing their tenants as people leave because of this. Today I'll go up to see if there is anything useful.
Oh Shit! It's starting to rain.
It's so difficult not to feel sad all the time, I'm trying hard. I wish we were leaving soon, but we must get a roof on. If we still had property in Canada it would be so much easier but we don't, we chose to emigrate. Who could have predicted something like this would happen? Even Naomi, a local lady in her 80's said, there's never been anything like this before.
Bob and Roberta still intend to arrive as usual October 30th, I don't think they realize how bad it is. I am so sad about their beautiful house which they loved so much.
I believe Richard Branson may be right in thinking, these super storms may become the norm because of climate change. If that's the case then we definitely do not want to be here again during hurricane season.
Apparently, for the 1st time in over 300 years, the island of Barbuda is uninhabited. Everyone gone as there wasn't one building left standing.
What will we do?
We're living in squalor, now a drone is flying overhead, staring down at us. Del just saluted.
Feeling grumpy as hell. Trying to air out all the sheets and towels again as they are growing moldy. Then I'll seal in plastic bags. Don't know if this will help or not, but I'm now sealing almost everything we're not using in plastic, so very much want to leave. The jenny broke down, lots of swearing but Del fixed after about 3 hours.
Sunday, Sept 24 – Day 18
The positives of this situation are:
I found a bottle of Canadian Maple syrup, so I made pancakes this morning, yummy!
Also, 2 very large candles, so I have those, also a bottle of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
I've now counted 32 flamingos and the binoculars seem to be working properly again, they were fogged up inside before.
When you stand on the shore of Josiah's Bay and look out to sea, it's still very beautiful, just don't look behind. xo