CAT 5 in the VI
I had just finished a packed summer working in the Frick Chemistry Lab at Princeton and was therefore so relieved and excited to see my parents. I had not seen them in over eight months, the longest I have ever gone without seeing them. Stepping off the plane and walking into the airport lobby, I was warmly greeted by my parents and two shots of flavored Cruzan Rum, a true reminder that I was home and a taste that I missed. We spent the next couple of weeks getting back to our old family life, living life how it was before I went to college.
I am proud to call myself a native U.S. Virgin Islander of 18 years. With over three quarters of St. John reserved as a national park, the pristine elegance is almost untouched by humanity, fully able to flourish and bring out the colors of the Caribbean. Each time I return home, I gain a new appreciation of how special a place it is that I come from. I can only ever hear awe mixed with envy from state-siders when I tell them where I hail from.
But then, all of a sudden, a rapid transformation occurred. Almost out of nowhere, a hurricane popped up on the local radio and radar of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A strengthening storm was on a direct collision course with our tiny cluster of islands. By the time Hurricane Irma would hit the Virgin Islands, it would be classified as a Category 5 hurricane, the worst hurricane ever to be recorded in the history of the existence of NOAA – actually, if Category 6 was a thing, Irma would have been considered that, but there isn’t such a category because such a powerful hurricane had never been seen before. Tell me climate change isn’t a thing and you are a complete fool.
The island prepared for an oncoming hit, buying essentials like canned food and bottled water. My dad and I prepared our home by putting up iron shutters around our house that would protect sliding glass doors and windows from debris flung around by the hurricane’s winds. We would soon feel the full force and indescribable wrath of 220+ mile-per-hour wind gusts on our tiny 32-square mile island, and boy, would the island never forget it.
The date was September 6. The news said that the force of Hurricane Irma would hit later that day. We were as prepared as we could be and braced for the storm. The wind gradually grew stronger as the day got longer and the night drew nearer. My Mom, Dad, and I stepped outside on our patio many times to see increasingly worsening conditions. Our last outside visit before Irma invaded was seeing one of our fondest trees enduring such high wind force bashing that it cracked in half, like an inflatable stick man used in car advertisements. Unsure of what was to come and hoping for the best, we went back inside and hunkered down. Soon after, our house lost power, like much of the entire island, and then all anyone could hear was the howling of the wind, the sound of an enormous, unending freight train passing by.
With candlelight illuminating the inside of our closed-up, dark house, we heard the unmistakable roaring and hissing of the wind, but then a new sound arrived — the battering of the iron shutters from, with what we could hear, all sorts of debris: from tiny pebbles and sticks, to huge branches and formidable stones that could crush a human body with one strike. We could hear our trees fighting the wind. As mentioned earlier, my family loves nature, and so, in the 20 years my parents have been on St. Thomas, we surrounded our house with a buffer zone of trees, not only for beauty’s sake and a sense of privacy, but also for protection in case of a hurricane. But that barrier couldn’t protect us for the circumstances we were going through. The one time we attempted to open one of our wooden doors, the sky was pitch-black and we couldn’t see a thing.
Once again, all we heard was the whistling of raging wind, and the pelting ping of threatening objects against the iron shutters. Yet once more, a new sound arose — the sad cracking of trees that resembled the falling effect of dominos one after another … Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack! Bam! Bam! Bam! Boom! A cacophony of chaos and mayhem swirled around us as we clung to each other, trying to stay sane with the feeling of pressurized changes throughout the rooms. We kept trying to equalize and pop our ears constantly to ease the ongoing discomfort of the changing pressures to no avail. However, that would soon be the least of our worries.