I've never seen a more beautiful place. The people are nice. The water is clear and blue. The vegetation is lush. But not anymore.
Going to St Thomas was an experience that I hope will be life changing for me. It was terrifying. I was so stupid. It was and continues to be heart breaking for me.
We planned this trip with Sydne and Roger Davies (Syd is Mary's cousin). It was their Marriott Time-Share and they had invited us to tag along. Mary and I knew that a hurricane was coming, but like so many others who had reservations and air flights all arranged, we became part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
We figured that we had a 50:50 chance that Irma would turn north. Indeed, the locals told us not to worry; "they always turn north when they approach the islands". The storm didn't turn.
We had attended church on Sunday before the storm. We met President Richards and Joe Charles (the Elders Q Pres). The branch was small; about 35 folks attending. The people looked mostly of moderate means.
It was fast and testimony meeting and many of those who spoke talked about hurricane preparation. Prior to attending church, I hadn't given the upcoming storm much thought. But after Joe Charles took the 3rd hour quorum meeting to talk about preparation. He took our contact info and said he wanted to make sure we would all be okay after the storm!
We visitors!! It lit a fire in us.
Immediately after church we drove to "Cost-U-Less", a warehouse store next to the Home Depot on the hill-side opposite the church. There we picked up about $350 worth of staples, water and junk food. It was serious to us at that point, but surreal. And for the next two days we just enjoyed.
As the storm approached, the Marriott told us to fill our bath tubs with water, close and lock doors and close curtains. But of course, as the storm was increasing, we couldn't help but look out or even walk out on the decks and take pictures.
As the storm intensified, I checked wunderground to see where we were relative to the storm. What I didn't know about hurricanes is that you don't "see them". You hear them and feel them. As as the eye approached us, it reached a point where you couldn't see anything outside. It was solid white. But you could definitely hear the storm. Mary began to complain of ears popping. Eventually our apartment was so loud that you could barely speak to each other. And the ears were popping every 5 seconds. But worst of all, you could hear each gust and we could tell from the sound which ones were tearing things apart.
About this time I got a text message from Joe Charles from the branch asking how we were doing. Amazing!
We thought the windows may blow in.
And so Roger pulled a mattress off a spare bed and we placed it over the main bay window. And shortly afterward, we lost power and cell service. This bad part of the hurricane lasted about an hour. But the worst was ahead of us; and that was living without power, water, phone, car.
We did not leave our villa all that day. And though it was still storming on the day after, many people began to wander out. The island had been 100% defoliated. No trees had even a single leaf. Power lines and trees were about every 50 feet along the roads and so all roads were closed. Indeed, the governor had issued a Curfew that lasted the entire time we were on the island.
And so now, we had become a problem. We couldn't drive anywhere. The governor had ordered us to stay in. The Marriott asked us to please not clean-up anything. We were free-loaders in a place where everybody had devastating loss. That has haunted me since.
The Marriott arranged for a very large ferry to empty their three island hotels. And on Friday evening, together with about 1000 hotel guests we were police escorted to the ferry dock (10 minutes away by car) over downed power lines and under trees. We were given a full buffet and comfy seats while they ferried us to San Juan (about 4 hours away) where we checked into the San Juan Marriott at no cost and given $50 food credit / person and $200 cash / person.
This also broke my heart because we were not the ones that needed that nice room, warm meal and cash. It was the folks that we left behind; folks that have almost zero resources.
I hate to admit it, but I actually got slightly annoyed when, on my flight back to Salt Lake last night, the touch screen at my seat would not play movies. Oh goodness! What's wrong with me?
I woke up in tears today because I keep dreaming about the island. I texted Joe Charles when I got internet and asked if there was anything we could do. His one liner back was "Visa and Home Depot e-gift cards".
The only reason I'm even posting this is because I feel extremely guilty. I should not have gone. And when there wasn't able to do a single good thing. I consumed instead of relieved.
And so now, I'm posting this to ask you to contribute to the St Thomas branch members. When will they get power? The estimate we heard over and over was "months". When will they get water? Same. What are they doing for food? Dunno. Where will they get the funds to rebuild their blown out windows or replace the roof? How about the car that had a tree fall on top of it? And what will they do for a living? That island will shutdown without any tourists! It breaks my heart.
I know that there are many needs across the world; far too many for us to address. I believe that our lives are always in Gods hands. But our neighbors needs are in our hands. I was there this week and this is personal to me. This is all I know to do. This is what I told Joe Charles that I would do for him.
Saratoga Springs, UT
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
I will personally transfer all donations to Joe Charles or the President Richards. Unfortunately, with no power or phone, they haven't provided me with bank account info yet. President Richards will distribute the funds as he sees fit.
update from Sydne Rogers still stuck in San Juan
"Just returned from church. The church is transporting
By air the St Thomas members here to Puerto Rico. They will house many of them at the mission home, then some to ward members."
- Sydne Davies
- CJ and Dan Burnett
- Laurie Raymond
- Jay and Cheryl Jacobs
Organizer and beneficiary
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