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 I was scared to stay at our place because the only protection we had was outdated metal slats over our screens.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