Email written 0930 19 September 2019. We have been told the power will go off at 6 tonight , but it just went off for 5 minutes. So I thought I better get this out before it goes again. We are picking 6pm optimistic! We are ready for this! but it will be different to the last one. We were so lucky with the change of course with Irma, I don’t think so this time. For one thing all the models are agreeing with her course, unlike Irma. The National guard have arrived on the island, so hopefully no trouble here. Huge trouble on Tortola following Irma. Tempers are flaring here, everyone is very stressed and angry. Just to remind you, our house is concrete and very solid, flat roof and louver windows. It is very strong. If we have to we will move downstairs to the BnB as it has less windows and exposure to the weather. OK the power has been off and on a couple of times so will send this now. I have my cell phone but keeping it charged is a problem. They are thinking of cutting the water off at some point today as well. We have enough drinking water for about 8 days!This email never got sent
The most terrifying night of my life!
The power has been off since mid-morning ad Rhonda arrived about 12, it is starting to get quite windy. It increases all day and by about 1930 it feels about the same as Irma. It is dark now, and we all decide that we should go to bed – maybe we can sleep through the worst of it – they said pre-dawn will be the worst.
We all did sleep, but the noise of the wind woke me after a couple of hours and I couldn’t lie there anymore. It is pitch black, Rhonda is asleep and so is Chris. I can’t see anything out the windows it’s too dark. The noise is getting louder and the windows are getting silted up on the outside. Water is starting to come in under the door at the back and the front porch. I am checking the windows constantly trying to see what’s going on outside. I can see blue and red flashing glows out there, the National Guard are patrolling, this is quite comforting. Checking checking, round and round the house, what can I do?
It is quieter and safest in the bunk room, we have pushed the 2 bunks up against the inside wall, furthest away from the 1 window in that room. A light out the back keeps coming on – we have no power! There must be someone out there! It is so dark outside but then the light comes on I can see that it is like looking through mist, its like the light is shining from under a blanket. I dismiss this thought but it keeps happening so I wake Chris up, terrified that someone is out there and needs help. Turns out to be a battery powered security light I didn’t even know we had.
1am, 2am, 3am, still awake, I try to rest, must have fallen asleep for a few minutes, I woke to Rhonda screaming, I jumped off the bunk into ankle deep water, my heart is racing and I am shaking, I get to Rhonda and she is OK just got a fright wit all the water. its 3:30am, we try bailing the water into the shower, more coming in than we can keep up with, the water from the front is meeting the water from the back! The noise now is deafening, I want to look out the windows, but Rhonda yells, keep away from the windows! She is right, they are buckling under the pressure and look like they will blow in and any moment. Roaring bangs and crashes outside, sounds like cars colliding, if you were outside now you probably wouldn’t survive.
Chris is up now and we are all bailing – this is useless, but we have to do something! It is like it is raining inside the house, water is coming in horizontally through every louver window gap, everything is soaked. The mud is coming in with the water, this is so frightening!
5am we give up, Rhonda and I go to the bunk room and huddle up in the corner praying the windows stay intact and the roof stays on. If that happened, we would just have to stay covered as much as we can and ride it out, we realise now that there would be nowhere to go, and no safe way to get there, its all for one at this stage. Chris lies on the couch, safe from the front doors at least, I must have drifted off.
6am its just getting light, the wind seems to be dying down a bit, it is still raining. I try to see out the window through the mud caked on the glass. It looks like a war zone, Pam and Kim’s roof terrace has gone, I can see our gate down the driveway, roofing iron everywhere. As it gets lighter and the wind gets less we can open the doors and start sweeping the water and mud out. Rhonda’s car is written off, looks like it has been in a high speed collision. The roof of the yellow house flew into the car and ended up in the orange houses yard. Trees, branches, fences, power poles, all down, we now have a full view of the Atlantic Ocean. Its hard to comprehend what I am seeing.
It was terrifying during the hurricane and then the aftermath was as bad. So many people lost everything. We can’t believe no-one was killed (during the storm on Vieques anyway) People are amazingly though, and so resilient. The community really did come together and help each other. We would meet at the square everyday to talk with people. This was the only way we have communication. At this stage we had no idea about anywhere else, not even the other side of our little island. The roads were blocked, the power was off, no phone coverage.
The municipality were great and did everything that they could given their limited resources. By day 7 they were giving out Military ration packs of food and bottled water to everyone and holding a meeting at 2pm everyday to advise of the situation. Day 8 they offered a 2 minute satellite call for everyone. I took that opportunity to call Mum to get the word out that we were ok. I lined up for 2 hours but it was worth it.
Unlike Irma, it continued to rain and was overcast for 3 days, everything was so wet and could not get dry. It was incredible to see the destruction nature can cause. The trees which were still standing had no foliage and even worse – no bark!
We had decided by now that we should try to leave but we were hearing that San Juan airport was still not functional except for the military. So there was no point in us going to the main land to then camp out at the airport for days, we were safer where we were.
We were quite worried about the crime which was increasing every day. Chris rigged up some traps around our house with our neighbour and devised a signal system if people were on the property. Chris had a picaxe on his side of the bed. It was so dark! A few homes had generators so had power but they were running out of fuel and the lines for the gas stations (on the days that fuel did come across on the ferry) were 5 hours long! There was a curfew in place from 6pm to 5am, this was policed by the National Guard who had come across to the island the day before Maria. We heard that someone had stolen the generator from the morgue at the hospital! At the end of day 4 the water stopped and that was it for 3 days. They got it going again for 1 day but they tried to steel the diesel that was running the generator which was running the pump, couldn’t get it so sabotaged the water system! No water again for another 3 days. You know, we had no power for 10 days following Irma and we were getting really grumpy with it. BUT this time, with no water! no power was easy!! It is the water which is critical and communication, that is essential also, we can live without power. Funny how it is all relative. We were collecting water from the roof to use to flush the toilet and try to hand wash clothes, we were showering in the driveway with the hose from the roof water. We are using paper plates so don’t have to do dishes.
Again the garbage has not been collected, lots of rotten food and everything is so wet, perfect breeding ground for flies and mosquitos, they are rampant, it is hideous. A doctor has said that there will disease outbreaks soon. And again we are struggling with the heat, no power, no water, no ice! We heard that they used all the spare parts to fix the power after Irma, so no way to fix the power this time and Vieques is feeling like the “forgotten Island” sitting at the bottom of the “help” list.(Vieques was still running on generators 12 months later!)
We remained on Vieques for 16 days post-Maria. We were evacuated by the US State Department together with the NZ Embassy in Washington. Its a great story of relief and sadness, of nations pulling together and people helping people. To be published soon!