Hurricane Irma, which hit St. John and St. Thomas, was about 40 miles north of St. Croix. Still, we did experience wind gusts of 131 mph on Buck Island. There was some damage in and around Christiansted, where I have been living, but mostly it was just scary as we had six hours of tropical storm and hurricane-force winds.
Hurricane Maria, another Category 5 hurricane, passed just south of St. Croix. For those of us on the north side of the island that put the mountains between us and the eye of the storm. Still, 70% of all buildings on St. Croix were damaged or destroyed by Maria. Unlike Irma, which hit us during the day, Maria was an early morning storm. With the power grid shut down it was an odd experience to ‘ride out’ a hurricane in a cottage with winds that topped 160 mph.
As Maria’s eye passed us my ears popped and I had a sinus headache and ear ache for the next day-and-a-half. I retreated to the shower and had my mattress handy in case the roof tore off my cottage. It didn’t. But nothing keeps rain water out of a structure when the winds are howling at 160 mph, so I left the bathroom after mud and water jetted in from the closed hurricane shutters and an old pipe.
I’m not sure if the sideways rain or winds were more dramatic. The rain didn’t fall – it was driven sideways. This kind of force works water in everything, whether it’s made of wood, cement, brick or limestone.
Next door to my cottage are three Lignum trees, towering at least three stories over us. These trees are well known for the dense wood (it will sink in water) and fruit. During the storm all of the leaves were blown off and the trees bent so low to the ground their canopy branches touched the ground.
Around midnight, before the eye passed alongside the island, the wind opened the hurricane shutters in my bedroom. I stood in front of the window and closed them, using the hand cranks on the side of the windows, inside the room. A particularly big gust pulled from arm’s length at the window into the window. That’s a strong wind.
After this I went into the kitchen to see if the cabinets and cupboards were staying secured to the wall. They were, but when I put my hand on an external wall it was shuddering. It felt like they were the reinforced cement they were, but were filled with a Jello-like substance, or perhaps were made of sponges with a thin veneer of cement on the outside.
We were told to remain awake and fully dressed during the hurricane, with a go-bag handy, in case our structure was ruined. So I squatted in the front doorway, my hands on either side of the door frame. The front of my cottage has a reinforced cement wall that extends up about three feet, the rest is screened-in porch. This is safer than the kitchen, which has cabinet doors and canned food. If the roof goes the kitchen is a shooting gallery.
The door frame twisted and bent, and I watched a four-by-four porch support bend. Thankfully the roof held so I had a place wet from rain but I had shade and screens. That was more than many other people on the island.
In all it was an interesting, but sometimes frightening, experience. Still, the six hours of so of Hurricane Maria were a little better than the aftermath. That’s my next post.