EDITORS NOTE: Our Sister Helen, and four more of our Family (Joe, Brodie and their babies) recently survived a severe tropic storm, that was then followed by the hell that was Hurricane Irma – which was then quickly followed by 2 more Hurricanes, Jose and Maria.
This is Part 1 of her story…
6 January 2018
To family, friends, & peeps who have watched out for me and helped me out:
It’s 4 months to the day since Irma gave us a bit of a lashing and sent us scurrying for shelter, then on to other climes.
The story has been long, starting of course a month earlier with the enormous sadness of Pat, and then for us and on the same day, a massive thunder lightning and rain storm which lasted for 10 hours that completely flooded the island taking anything not tied down into the township and flat areas bordering the island and devastating most of the businesses with mud and water and destroying the hilly roads, peeling off the bitumen or turning it into a rippled hard carpet.
That storm blew out all the circuitry in Joe and Brodie’s house, (which I was house-sitting while they were away), the lightning hit the house and the window I was standing next to, shattering glass all over me, blew out water pipes, electric sockets from walls and slaughtered the washing machine and dryer.
Having Irma hit was a double devastation – it’s largely regarded as a Category 6, Branson reckons a Cat 7.
It contained within it lots of mini tornadoes the swirling evidence seen in the sweep of the great swathes of trees flattened in some parts and rips across parts of houses in a mini trajectory as others nearby were randomly spared the same slaughter.
I had chosen, or rather circumstances had chosen for me, to stay at my place rather than be with Joe and Brodie; firstly because they could not take their dog and I could not let her be left alone in their house; and secondly because I had a friend going to stay with me during the hurricane and there was a chance that there would not be room for both her and I where they were going.
My place did not suffer and in fact after the eye passed over, my landlord and his family, brother and parents all came to stay with me as both their places had the windows ripped out and roofs torn off – the lashing we received from the other direction was particularly brutal – rum shots, pineapple tart and bad guitar playing got us through the second half…
Joe and Brodie and the kids on the day before the hurricane, went first to a friend’s house, but it was not protected enough, then to a concrete office in town only to find that there were only outside steps to the toilet upstairs – as well as being vulnerable to storm surges, and then to a builder friend’s house which was safe; huge and better protected.
The day after the hurricane my landlord, a local police sergeant and his wife went for a walk up the hills to check on neighbours and to view the destruction – they were gone for about 8 hours.
Electricity had been turned off island-wide prior to the arrival of Irma and the roads were strewn with broken power poles and electrical wires as well as roofs and trees.
They reported that there was a faint signal from one of the phone service providers, luckily the one I was with, a few miles up the road, so the next day we headed out with water and phones up the obstacle course that was once a road.
I had been unable to contact Joe and Brodie to make sure they were all okay, nor indeed anyone else to let people know we were safe, and we were getting pretty frantic by now.
Needless to say, it took us a long time to get where we needed to go, but were lucky enough to find a stretch of road that had been cleared and got a lift in the back of a ute, along with about 15 other folks, trying to get somewhere too.
Anita and I got out of the ute and we were making our way to the spot where there was supposed to be the signal, only to be stopped by a guy we knew driving a car who said “Helen, I have a surprise for you!”, and out of the car jumped Joe, one of his friends and Brodie’s dad – it was a very emotional moment.
Joe and Brodie had been frantic and worried also and wanted to find and take us to their safe-house as there was another hurricane coming the next day.
Joe and the guys had walked the length of half the island, some 10 or 12 miles, starting early in the morning.
We next went to Joe’s friend’s house to check his house, brother, dogs and get fuel and oil for generator, then back to my place, collected a couple of changes of clothes, passports, food we could carry and started the long uphill trek to Joe and Brodie’s house to collect more provisions – we were carrying a lot between us.
During this long walk up incredibly steep hills in very hot weather my friend started to suffer overheating and exhaustion and started hyperventilating and I discovered she was on heart medication.
The guys were trying to push on as it was getting late but it was clear that if the hurricane hadn’t killed her, then continuing at this pace over these hills would.
We poured precious drinking water over her head, found some shade under a fallen tree and sat her in running water to try to calm and cool her down.
Joe found some people in a house up the road who could look after her until she could get proper help so we half carried her up the hill and with misgivings left her to their kindly ministrations – she had wanted us to leave her on the side of the road!
Brodie’s Dad and I walked up the rest of the hill and waited by the side of the road with the bags while Joe and friend walked up to Joe and Brodie’s to check the house and collect more supplies.
Just as they got back to us a Red Cross van suddenly appeared coming around the corner – a completely surreal moment.
We stopped the van and asked if someone had called them to come “no” they were just checking on people.
Long story short – they took Anita to hospital, kept her overnight and she was fine again the next day and kept safe.
We were now laden with fuel & oil for the generator, dry goods, tinned food, a little clothing and valuable documents each of us carrying 2 or 3 very heavy items – it was punishing.
We got a lift a few miles up the road until the road was completely blocked and headed along the ridge road – it was a terrifying sight – houses completely imploded, roofs ripped off, windows smashed and furniture and washing machines littering the road where they were blown; power lines and fencing all over the road; people, kids, dogs standing around looking lost, their houses shells, wet clothing hanging over broken walls, people with machetes clearing the roads using vehicles to drag debris from the road – desolation and carnage everywhere.
We had to stop looking and push on past angry hungry dogs, I had Joe and Brodie’s dog on a lead with us, clambering the obstacles, greeting people, trying to get back before dark.
It was heartbreaking – so many people had lost everything – the island shredded.
Just as war brings pestilence, so devastation brings desperation and then it’s mercenary side-kick, looting, and our thoughts turned quickly to matters of safety: how would the island survive for food, drinking water, fuel – what would become of everyone with 2 more hurricanes in the Atlantic both bearing down on us – Jose and Maria.
These considerations made the actual event of Irma almost pale into insignificance.
Absolutely gut-churning dread, and still no ability to let our families and friends know that we were even alive or to check on other people on island.
Meanwhile, back at Paolo’s, where Joe, Brodie & the kids and other folks had been staying, they had no way of knowing if Joe and the guys had found me nor indeed if we were okay, and the light was failing fast and we were hurting.
Coming along the road came Al in his little hurricane-beaten-up car and asked where we were going; he loaded up all the bags and me (yup!) into the car, handed me a bottle of tequila with half an inch of liquid in it and said “down it Helen!”, which I dutifully did.
The men walked the mile down the hill, which the residents had amazingly cleared during the day, and I rode in thankful style.
By the time we all got ourselves and bags into the house, down what seemed like a thousand very steep steps, Joe and the guys had been gone over 10 hours, so the reunion for everyone was very teary, grateful and emotional.
I will write the rest in due course and pass it on, but in the meantime please know that we are doing fine, and I am helping Joe and Brodie with kids and house and cooking and we are all working hard and looking after each other.
Much love and gratitude to you all