Living Through The Storm

Hurricane Irma had a ferocity no one could have imagined

09/06/2017 — First Storm Journal


At about 9:30am I heard the new winds beginning. These were different from the gusts last night. They howled. Now my timer had started. At any moment I could lose power, meaning losing, lights, fans, running water, internet, and phone signal. I frantically eeked out a message to friends and family- “winds picking up, here we go”. And without a sound, my ceiling fan had suddenly stopped. The only sound was the wind. Hurricane Irma had arrived.

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Little Nala and I had just moved down to the USVI for graduate study! We had just gotten settled in when Hurricane Irma paid us a visit

My first hours were uneventful, in fact, I slept. After a trip to the bathroom at 9:30, I went to my bed for some shut-eye until noon. By then the wind became so powerful my ears wouldn't stop popping. I sat up and checked on Nala, my kitty storm buddy who was under the bed, asleep. At least I knew she wasn’t worried yet.

An hour and a half later my writing was interrupted by a sudden increase of light in the living room. “Just don’t be the door,” I pleaded. In fact it was not, but rather the adjacent screened window. It had no pane glass, it merely contained thick wooden strides on the outside, sheltering it from dangerous debris, and catch the majority of the water before the screen.

Well catching a majority of the water in a hurricane wasn’t enough. The winds had blown in the curtain (really only decorative at this point), alerting me to the beginnings of a serious concern: unabated entry for rain. To my dismay I discovered rainwater seeping in through the doorway and the window, I had forgotten to seal the bottoms. Water was already pooling by the bottom, at a concerning rate if this storm was to stay around 12 hours. Towels, blankets, anything that could absorb water was soon piled and spread by the doorframe and window (my wetsuits even played a part here). The scary part is I know that none this is nearly enough. I will undoubtedly have standing water on my living room floor, I can only decide how much.

Then the wind blew my window curtain clean off. Now the only thing between my living room and Hurricane Irma was some wood slats and a mesh screen. Neither was doing much to stop the water. A few efforts to mount a blanket on the window, but I knew it was pointless. I was again powerless to Irma, and watched rain spray into my living room.

The storm was now approaching its worst, and needing to distract myself from my flooding living room, I went to check on Nala, who by now was squarely in the back corner under my bed. Awake, but at least content where she was. All was fine.

Then I felt a drop on my head.

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This was the most dreadful of drops, as it came from my room ceiling, the innermost, and what I thought was the safest part of my concrete fortress. To my dismay drops had begun forming on the outer edges of my closet, with more forming all over the closet ceiling. The apartment above mine must have flooded, and by proxy my closet was now flooding.

Swearing like a sailor, I emptied one of my water buckets into the tub and brought it to my room. No chance of catching all of the drips, but catching even most would save me from later complications. Drips were now becoming streams; I went for a second bucket. Soon my closet had a small water feature and it was time to decide what this meant for riding out the storm. Water continued to blow into the front of the house. All belongings off the floor, damp items to the table and couch, dry onto the bed. I started packing my backpack, because if this got worse, Nala and I would have to leave fast. That’s when I noticed the bulge in the ceiling of my closet.

Things were about to get worse.

I bolted for Nala’s carrier, and triple checked for backpack essentials. Last step was Nala, now desperately sitting on a small cardboard island under my bed. I threw the bed aside and grabbed her, unconvincingly trying to assure her this was in her best interest. Full foulie attire and covered backpack, I ventured out in the storm.

Immediately the wind all but knocked me over. It was constant, intense and uncompromising. I held Nala’s carrier with all my might, attempting what I could to shield her from the storm. And as I fought the winds I took in the incredible destruction already. I didn’t linger; this storm took down fences and trees faster than I could blink. I charged up and around the driveway, as I knew my only possible sanctuary would be with my landlord, Mark. Fighting wind and carefully walking through debris and up the tile steps, the wind was unrelenting. I pounded with all my might on Mark’s door, no answer. For 5 minutes I stood in the middle of a hurricane, pleading for shelter, but no answer. My only other choice was Stephanie, a neighbor who I had met once, and was here as well. I tried her door. No answer. I re-tried Mark's, no answer. I had to keep trying doors, as our lives depended on it. The next door... at last! A knob turned and there stood Mark, his wife, and Stephanie. They had all flooded too, Mark had lost the roof. We were all in the remaining safe apartment. Like all the others, there was water on the floor, but the bulging back doors managed to hold better than my open window or the roof.

And then in just almost a moment following hours of waiting the winds calmed, the howling quieted. I could hear the gust start pressing the west side instead of our battered northern backs. 3:46pm, all was going to finally calm down.

Around 6 the storm had largely died, with just the occasional gust as a whisper of what we just experienced, we made use of the remaining daylight to sweep out the upstairs apartment (solving one of my floods) and getting some food made for everyone on my stove. With a meal and winds calmed, I decided it was time to end today, and returned home. I took care to dry off and laid down in my miraculously dry bed. I turned on a little music and Nala came over to lay on top of me. I took it as she forgave me for kidnapping her earlier. We slept together all night, happy to have simply survived.

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Joseph Townsend

Joseph Townsend

Making up the "maritime" half of Mountains and Maritime, Joe studies marine biology in the US Virgin Islands. You can usually find him in, on, or near the closest body of water.

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