Tuesday, Sept. 19th Update from Celia

Latest update from Celia, the director of the St. John Community Foundation:

“A humbling yet inspiring time…” Maria is now bringing rain and dangerous winds from the opposite direction this time. St. John will be locked up tight by 6pm to ride out the storm. Supplies had been topped off and people received several days worth to hold them while sheltered for this storm, while those who were in a position to buy groceries have been able to do so. Local law enforcement complimented by Military and Urban Rescue teams, who are sheltered in place on St. John, will be there to respond immediately and will get support from those deployments who will return to St. John after the storm passes.

Community meetings this morning simply stressed that residents should NOT stay in their home if it’s roof or windows have been  damaged (go to a shelter or neighbor’s before 6pm) and to stay INSIDE as debris already on the ground will become mortally dangerous. Expect roads to get washed out, more trees and power lines blown down with the winds coming from another direction, and be ready for roofs and walls that made it through IRMA to be compromised.

Most power and internet is to be cut at noon to protect the equipment, so expect limited communications until after Maria passes; it will resume in stages.

Gifft Hill School is now being called the “private school for public use” and will open for currently enrolled students 9/25 at 9am. On the 25th at noon, they will start interviewing  families who want to send their children there. Money should not be a consideration, just a willingness to learn and a desire for continuing education. They will enroll students until they are at capacity, and then figure the rest out. More details to come on how to help them continue cultivating strong minds and caring hearts. We will be supporting St. John School of the Arts, Parks and Rec and other’s’ efforts to ensure the youth are engaged in the aftermath of these storms. We are joining forces with a stateside Adopt-A-Family program for St. John families and will share details as it comes together.

Much gratitude for the amazing support from St. Criox during IRMA, we will pray for our sister island who is likely to get the brunt of MARIA and support our Crucian family in anyway possible. The outpouring of stateside assistance, and the resilient St. Johnians who have self organized to help take care of each other, continue to be  nothing less than action packed and awe-inspiring!

We will be back in response mode for the next several days, while at the same time continue to focus on long term recovery with experienced partners who have bounced back themselves after similar disasters. Support coming in now will help us revive and rebuild in what is going to be a long road ahead. To make a donation to the Foundation for St. John IRMA relief efforts (PayPal is waiving all fees) go to  http://thestjohnfoundation.org/donate

Meet Ben.

bens pic

Ben, top right, is pictured alongside a group of volunteers who live on or previously lived on St. John.

Hurricane Maria became a category 5 storm Monday night. The Virgin Islands is currently in its path. It’s hard to put into words how those of us who call St. John home are currently feeling. What I do know is that we have to keep the faith. We need to continue having hope. So today I’d like to introduce you to one of my very best friends – Ben Steed. Ben is the owner of Born to Rhumb charters. In the days following Irma, Ben worked tirelessly, along with a group of current and previous St. John residents, to secure much needed supplies and provide relief for the United States Virgin Islands. Ben sent me the following email Sunday night:

I’m Ben Steed and my wife Jen and I moved to St John after I completed 9 years of active duty service in the U.S. Marines as an MV-22 pilot.  An opportunity to own a small business came up and with a dream for a brighter future and a love for St John, so we took the plunge.  When Irma hit, we were in Oahu, Hawaii visiting friends since this is our “off season” in the USVI.  I hated what I was seeing unfold during Irma and made some calls to friends to see what we could do to help our friends in need.  My friends Jesse Vann, Devin Welch, Pat Connolly, Matt Atkinson and I immediately started a Facebook page called “St John Irma Relief” and began organizing an effort that today is more massive than I ever thought would be, now rebranded as Virgin Islands Relief.  We hit the ground running in mustering up volunteers to go down and help with search and rescue efforts, collecting supplies and figuring out how we could get aid to St John.  I spent 10 hours a day for the next 4 days, mainly focused on inserting a highly technical search and rescue team (Global DIRT) onto St John with financial assistance from St John Rescue.  Also during that time, we coordinated evacuation boats from Puerto Rico and St Croix that would bring hurricane battered people from St John to those islands.  The heroism displayed by the boat captains and coordinators on the ground in those locations has been unreal- those individuals are true heroes

The next phase was spent in collecting much needed supplies for those on island.  We reached out via social media to try and get as many supplies as we could for St John.  We decided to stage out of Philadelphia as a collection point and command center to help in organizing our efforts.  Over the next couple of days, we all met at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport where donations started coming in by the thousands. With a volunteer force, we processed well over 200,000 lbs of donated supplies that were sent via Amazon and local donations.  We initially aimed to send privately donated aircraft down with supplies for immediate relief, but then ran into issues finding and funding such aircraft. The majority have gone out for ocean freight to the USVI.  We are now focused on the rebuild aspect of our mission, that will prove to be the most costly and lengthy process, but is needed to restore what once was a paradise for everyone to fall in love with. From immediate search and rescue coordination to evacuation planning and coordination to our supply drive in Philadelphia, we have worked nonstop for the last 10 days; for our island, for our friends and for our home!  Please visit us at www.virginislandsrelief.org and @virginislandsrelief on Facebook.

#stjohnstrong

Sandy.

Sandy Colasacco is the founder and executive director of the Island Health and Wellness Center.

Sandy Colasacco is the founder and executive director of the Island Health and Wellness Center.

Earlier this year, we introduced you to Sandy Colasacco. Sandy is the founder and executive director of the Island Health and Wellness Center. Sandy was one of our island heroes before Irma, and she’s even more of a hero in my eyes post-Irma. Sandy called me late last night. She asked me to share the following with all of you.

Thank you so much for all the support and well wishes that have been coming to us here on St. John! It has definitely been a whirlwind of emotions the past 12 days, but knowing how many people are thinking about us and offering us so much in terms of help has made everything a lot easier. Seven months to the day before Hurricane Irma, I opened the Island Health and Wellness Center, a nonprofit primary care office. So many of you purchased raffle tickets and made donations through News of St. John to support us, and I cannot thank you enough. I just wanted to share my story and experience during and since Irma, and let you all know that our island will pull through this.

I have lived on St. John since 2003 and have never experienced a major hurricane, let alone anything like Irma. My fiance and I were lucky in that our apartment building had absolutely no damage to it, and during the storm we did not know anything about the extent of the damage to the rest of the island. We live in a concrete building (concrete roof too) tucked in the gut and had hurricane shutters for every window and door. My fiance secured all six units in our building, and I felt safe the entire storm. At about 1:30 p.m., our ears popped but other than that, we didn’t even have a hurricane shutter rattle. We thought that the storm must have veered north at the last minute and that our island was spared. Sadly, we were very wrong.

As we left the apartment that evening, we saw a roof from one of the buildings from the Westin covering the road to the left and a huge tree blocking the road to the right. At this point, we realized that this was worse than we thought, so we went inside until morning.

As we and the rest of the island ventured out on Thursday, I was rendered speechless as the devastation we saw was unimaginable. As we walked into town, the destruction seemed to be endless. There were trees and power lines down everywhere, roofs ripped off homes, sides of buildings blown in and people walking the streets in shock looking for loved ones. The true spirit of St. John shown through however, even after such devastation. Through it all, it was clear that everyone’s health was the most important thing. People who had lost their homes and everything they owned were not complaining, just thankful for their lives and the lives of others.

I am sad to say that Island Health and Wellness sustained major damage during Hurricane Irma and the space is currently uninhabitable. Most of the roof of the buiilding ripped off, causing extreme damage to the upper level units, and a hole in the roof in the back of our section caused the ceiling to cave in in our exam room, nurse’s station and supply room. There is a good deal of water damage in those areas, as well as the bathroom and it is spreading quickly. Thankfully I salvaged a good amount of our supplies and some of our equipment. (Thank you Anne for putting everything in plastic boxes.) While the physical space is unusable for now, I am grateful for what I have been able to save for when we are able to rebuild!

Since Irma hit, I have been doing the best I can to help as many people as I can. I am unable to see patients in the traditional manner since we dont have a physical location. So I have bene making house calls, as well as making myself available at certain times at public locations such as the grocery stores and Chelsea Drug Store. (By the way, thank you so much to Heidi and everyone at Chelsea for opening so quickly and making it possible for people to get their medications.) I have been treating patients for a variety of illnesses and injuries, writing and refilling prescriptions and offering any aid possible. I have also been working with the Westin to treat the medical needs of their employees and construction crew. We are in great need of Tetanus vaccines and T-dap and will only need more as the clean up continues.

I will admit that I have moments of sadness, frustration and pity as I think about what has happened to St. John. But most of the time, I am hopeful and determined as I know so many people want to see this island rebound. I am working hard to find a temprary location for the Island Health and Wellness Center to open as soon as possible, and will do everything I can to get us back up and running with an even stronger purpose. The amazing support and response we received before the storm keeps me going and motivates me even more to continue to help as many people as I can now and in the future!

With the support of all of you and our community, we will rebuild and will be back as soon as we can. I will try to keep everyone updated on our progress.

Thank you so much to all of the people who are asking about donating. Please visit our website at www.islandhealthcenter.org and go to our Donations page to make a donation. Donated supplies can be mailed once mail is back up and running or delivered to the security department at the Westin with my name on it.

It is truly a gift to be part of our community, and I am looking forward to what the future brings (as long as it is not another hurricane!). Thank you again to everyone for your assistance, strenghth and encouragement. If I can be of any help, please let me know. (Please contact Jenn and she will contact me.)

-Sandy

 

Pictures.

Last Sunday I was finally able to drive North Shore Road. We made it all the way to Cinnamon. Here are a few pics I took that day.

Cruz Bay overlook

Cruz Bay overlook

Cruz Bay looking inland

Cruz Bay looking inland

Virgin Islands National Park sign - North Shore Road

Virgin Islands National Park sign – North Shore Road

Just past the sign - you can now see Caneel Bay

Just past the sign – you can now see Caneel Bay

Caneel Bay - Zozo's

Caneel Bay – Zozo’s

Entrance to Caneel Bay

Entrance to Caneel Bay

Beach sign in front of Caneel Bay entrance

Beach sign in front of Caneel Bay entrance

Hawksnest

Hawksnest

Gibney Cottages

Gibney Cottages

Oppenheimer gate

Oppenheimer gate

Entrance to Jumbie

Entrance to Jumbie

Trunk Bay overlook

Trunk Bay overlook

Just before entrance to Trunk Bay

Just before entrance to Trunk Bay

Entrance to Peter Bay

Entrance to Peter Bay

North Shore Road

North Shore Road

Easter Rock

Easter Rock

Joe's Rum Hut

Joe’s Rum Hut

Waterfront Bistro

Waterfront Bistro

Ferry dock from beach

Ferry dock from beach

This dinghy used to belong to the late Captain John Brandi.

This dinghy used to belong to the late Captain John Brandi.

If you are interested in helping with St. John’s rebuild, please consider donating to Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation. Click here to learn more.

Meet Rachael.

rachael and brent

Rachael and Brent at the St. John “Prom” in 2016.

Over the past week, I’ve been asking people to share their stories. Today I’d like to introduce you to my friend Rachael Fox. Rachael sent me the following message yesterday, September 16th. At the time of this writing, two storms appeared to be headed toward St. John. Since then, both have been upgraded to tropical storms. Maria is expected to become a category 3 hurricane before it reaches St. John within the next few days. Late yesterday, St. John Rescue asked all non-essential personnel to leave St. John. St. John Rescue also stated yesterday that even “the government entities on island are packing up and pulling out all non-essential personnel”. This is Rachael’s story:

My name is Rachael Fox and I’ve been on island 3 years. I’ve been working as a teacher at Gifft Hill School. My husband Brent is a captain for Cruz Bay Water Sports.

We love our island home and the life we built here. I have moved around a lot and never found “home” till St John. Irma in one day has completely changed our lives and the lives of everyone on St John. We were fortunate enough to ride out the storm at the Westin. I was scared to stay at our place because the only protection we had was outdated metal slats over our screens. I have been through many of hurricanes as a Florida resident. You would be boarded up in the dark in a hot house. All you could do is sit and listen to the happenings going on outside. Irma was a unique experience as we watched what was happening through the “hurricane proof” windows. I put that in quotes as not all the rooms were as lucky as ours.

As the storm approached, we watched as the trees bent and stuff start to fly around. I wasn’t really scared or felt unsafe until the eye hit. As the eye hit, outside was almost a white out. The windows began flex and the door shook. Water began to flood in under the seams. Our ears started to pop, you could hear ripping of metal. It was when we watched the roof of Knox and Ollies come off that I began to freak out. We went into the back bedroom where you could feel the walls flexing and the bed was vibrating. It was like that for several hours. That was terrifying enough. We had it easy compared to most of our friend’s stories of walls caving in or holding mattresses over them in the tub.

After the storm passed and it was safe to go outside we did. There are no words to describe the emotions of opening that door and looking out. Our island home was destroyed. Many villas at the Westin had roofs torn away. There was not a tree onsite with a leaf on it. I stood there are cried. Nature has a way of humbling you in a second. We hadn’t even left the property yet and there was destruction everywhere. I was not prepared for what I was about to see when we walked to town.

At the top of Jacobs Ladder, you could see houses that had slid down the mountain, roofs gone, and in some cases houses gone. The only thing left were the cement slabs. The island was decimated. Everyone we walked by we asked is your family ok. Everyone was in a state of shock. My stomach was in knots. What would my house be like? As we walked up the hill, I saw my place still standing. How in the world did my place survive when everything around was damaged. Inside our place was untouched except for flooding that wasn’t too bad. My car has scratches were a roof blew by. Brent’s truck had trees down all around it and not a scratch. Why were we so lucky? I felt guilty.

The first couple of days were surreal. Your brain couldn’t process what your eyes were seeing. Reality of our lives forever changed setting in. We are 11 days post storm. I’ve begun work to help clean out the school. As of now we will be the only school on island. We have plans to have kids in school by next week. It’s been the most tiring, yet satisfying work. As the week has gone on, our campus looks more like a school. We still have a long road ahead as the upper campus did not fare so well. Again, I ask, why am I lucky to still have a job? Brent was not so lucky as all his work boats have been destroyed. He has been helping the company cleanup but will be out of work in a week. I have taken our good fortune as a sign from the powers that be that I need to stay and help rebuild as long as we are safe and can afford to.

Rachael then attached the following note. I do not think it was meant to be published, but I think it’s important to share.

Jenn, I don’t know if any of this is helpful or useful but as I have been typing I’ve started to cry. I have been keeping so much bottled up for my family, for me, for Brent. Even if you don’t use this, thanks for giving my an outlet to share my feelings. I have some pictures of the school before clean up. I’ll send videos of the after and maybe even day one with kids. We are seeing more and more help come. The military has a huge presence. Some trees and starting to grow new little leaves. However there is another storm brewing. I don’t know if I can handle that. If anything comes of it, that may be my breaking point. I don’t want to leave. If anymore people leave, how do we rebuild? We are planning a trip to PR for a weekend for a break. We are taking it a week at a time. Our plan is every 2 weeks get off island to regroup and evaluate our lives. Lol. Never thought my grandfather’s AA moto would come in handy.

Love to you guys and keep the word going that we have a long ride head.

If you’d like to support the island of St. John, please consider donating to St. John Rescue at www.stjohnrescue.com

Meet Liliana.

For every tragedy comes a thousand stories of hope. Meet Liliana.

I had the pleasure of teaching Liliana during the 2015-2016 school year. She is bright, kind, caring and compassionate. She loves St. John. She loves her community. And she plans to help rebuild it. Liliana is only 15. Here is her story.

If you’d like to help St. John with its rebuild, please consider donating to the St. John Community Foundation at thestjohnfoudation.org