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 I was scared to stay at our place because the only protection we had was outdated metal slats over our screens.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

24 thoughts on “Meet Rachael.”

  1. Thanks for sharing. The “guilt” you are feeling is a testament to the love and compassion for your neighbors. Perhaps you were spared because you were needed to clean up the school? Much love coming your way from Minnesota. You are a strong individual. The kids who still come to school will need you to be their rock as they try to make sense of the devastation.
    Thanking you in advance for helping bring routine back for the children.

  2. Your island friends from North Haven Community School (Maine)are thinking of all of our Gifft Hill friends. We were lucky to visit your amazing school in the spring of 2015. While there I fell in love with your island. I may not have met you while I was there, but know Jim and Mary and others at the upper campus. Please let us know what we can do, as one island school to another, to help you in your recovery.
    With love,
    Haven Stone
    Middle School Teacher
    North Haven Community School

  3. I cried as our read this article and especially that it was written by a very brave and strong angel, my niece, Rachael. Words can never heal the trauma you are all suffering. But your family and friends are ready and able to help you anyway possible. We are praying that those next storms find there way out to sea so no more lives or homes are destroyed. We pray that all resources come your way to build your home and paradise. Prays for strength for all of you that decide to stay and rebuild.

  4. My wife, Amy, and I fell in love with St. John when we visited last year. We are determined to make it our permanent home in the next few years. Our hearts are with you as you take on the huge task of cleaning up and rebuilding. We are donating to the relief fund. Also we are contemplating how we can physically come and help. With the current notice of evacuation of all non-essential personnel we know we will have to wait a bit. Our prayers go out to each and every one of you!

  5. Rachael and Brent,
    I am so sorry to hear about the destruction of your hometown. I think of you both often and have wondered where you both ended up after college. Please keep in touch and let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Maybe one day, we can visit St.John and go scuba diving once again with you two!
    Your Friend, Heather

  6. Rachel,

    The emotions that filled me reading your experience is overwhelming. I fell in love with St John 2 years ago and I bought a timeshare at Grande Bay. My heart aches for you and the island. I am also friends with your aunt Robyn and sister Jamie, I live in Stuart. We were spared this time and I have been feeling so much “survivor guilt” . Please keep us posted on what we can do. Would you happen to know Hollywood one of the homeless men? I made friends with him last visit and he has been on my mind. Praying these other storms don’t head your way. God Bless

  7. Praying for St.John ,… an incredible story by one of many we will return because the real beauty is not just at the beach or in trees but in the people! If you really want to support St.John go and help support the economy and let time heal the scars on this amazing place. God Bless all who call St.John their home…….

  8. Rachael – tears are streaming down my cheeks while reading your post. I spent winters on island at Coral Bay for 15 years. It was truly my most beloved place. Please find the strength to stay and help restore the island. Young people like you who love it are needed there. If I were younger . . . i would come and help. Hugs to you. Be strong and know many who love the island are with you in spirit.

  9. STJ is in our hearts every day. I won’t get into our details on ties but I will say we have made donations through groups/amazon but I really want to do something for the kids and schools….has anyone started a site or fund for this? I’m not sure who or where this will go so I will just include my details and keep it short….let me know! XXXXX

  10. My tears flow yet again for the beautiful loving people of St. John as I read your words. We too love this most exquisite place, fell love with StJ over 25 years ago. Sending many prayers and love for you all , for peace and safety as you continue to face storms and the task of rebuilding.

  11. This devastation to our island of paradise has been so emotional even for us sometimers living on the mainland. I can only imagine what it was like living through this hurricane and now the aftermath. Feeling helpless in Florida.

  12. Rachael, my sweet granddaughter, Kiki and 1 of her friends will be starting pre-school (maybe with you?) as soon as school opens. Kiki and her parents, Nellie and Colby, stayed for Irma and they are staying for Maria. Kiki and her little brother, Nolan, were both born in the VI. Kiki is just about the smartest 4 year old I know. She writes her name (in crayon) on her walls at home, she knows all of the planets, and she is absolutely fearless. I would hate for you to miss all of her amazing precociousness. And I know she needs someone like you who loves and understands the unique way of living an island life. I hope you’ll stay. I would love to meet Kiki’s you – because I KNOW she’ll have a lot to tell me about you! She’s the best story teller! Whatever you decide, please take care.

    • Wow…what a story! So poignant! The Most High knew you would be much needed at the school and protected you. What a blessing. I can so relate to your story! I survived hurricane David on the island of Dominica. I worked in the capital, 9 miles away. I decided to walk home…over ravines, landslides, rivers and fallen trees. I expected the worse. I was in such shock when I got home. Every house is my neighborhood was destroyed, while my home stood intact. Three days later my pregnant sister gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. I am forever grateful to God. I never doubt Him anymore. That sister presently lives on St. Thomas and through Irma, her house stood intact. Slight flooding only. That is the goodness of the God whom I serve! You are blessed, special and have a work to do. These kids are blessed to have you!

  13. I understand how you feel guilty- much of my community was destroyed by a massive tornado in 2011. Our home and our business stood while many of my friends lost everything- home and business, vehicles. I felt guilty too.
    It is good that you and your husband have planned time to get away. You both need it. I also know how encouraging it will be especially for the children to re-start school. It will be a sense of normal in a very abnormal time. Prayers for you as you go forward.

  14. Rachel, I admire your strength and resilience. I as well had tears running down my face as I read your post. Your post is so honest and comes from the heart. I hope you stay safe. I can imagine how scared you must’ve felt during the storm. I as well agree that you must’ve been spared so you can help others rebuild your dream island and home. They need you to teach their children as it sounds like you know just the right things to teach them. I know your sisters and nieces fromtge tennis club and saw the beautiful pictures Karin and Jamie shared of their beautiful trip there not so long ago. We are hoping Maria goes far out to sea and leaves all the already Hurricane (war)-ravaged countries alone. Somehow, I believe, all the turmoil and unrest in our nation and world is causing these calamities. People have to quit attacking other people for their personal preferences and help other people and each other . Please stay safe. Xxoo

  15. Rachel…my name is Clare McDermott and my grandson..Lincoln Sinclair is a 7th grade student at your school…his mom and dad..Jennifer Sinclair and Ben Sinclair are staying but Lincoln has been evacuated and is in Vermont with Ben’s mother….we have been praying for all of you…Jen and Ben are at Kismet if you need a place to stay….take care and God Bless all of you

  16. Thank you for sharing. You are making it real for us all and that will help the islands. I work at a school in New York and we are ready to partner up or send supplies when it is possible. Please keep us in mind-
    Good luck and thinking about you during this next storm.

  17. Thank you for sharing Rachael! We are in recovery process here in Florida. I cannot begin to imagine what you are facing there. Stay strong. The children of Gifft Hill School need you. Your colleagues and former students here at Grassy Lake Elementary would love to partner up and help however we can. Please let us know what we can do.

  18. My brave storm warrior! You daughter are blessed by your faith.Trust always that God.s purpose for you will be clear.Just be still and listen! I know your mind is just overwhelmed but again just be still, keep praying and His love and mercy will shine through!
    I as you do believe your home and belongings were saved as a sign for you to stay and rebuild not only your life but for the well being of your students. Those kids so need you!!! Your passion for developing learning in kids is unmeasurable!!!
    So Dad and I support your decision to stay.
    Your family is making sure Gifft Hill will be funded.
    You are the light of our lives. Brent as well will find his purpose too!

  19. Thank you Rachael,
    I believe that hope and love in our children keeps our faith and strength focused on recovery.
    I donated because you Rachael give all the children and adults as well the hope and love they need to make life happy once again.

  20. Your story is amazing. We have been coming to St John for a long time we met your husband this past May he was our captain for a Jost trip and did a sunset cruise with him. All we can say is please keep your heads up and we pray everyday for our island family. Much live

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