It was the first week in September and the weather reports were not good: Hurricane Irma was on a collision course with the U.S. Virgin Islands. No big deal, right? The last real hurricane to actually hit St. Thomas was 22 years ago so this one was just a drill. If only…
In 1995, Hurricane Marilyn destroyed the USVI; that was only 6 years after Hugo did the same. I was just a teenager when I had my first full hurricane experience: hearing the wind howl around and through the house; feeling my ears ‘pop’ from the shift in atmospheric pressure; having my stomach gnaw on itself from the unsettling fear that at any moment, the roof would be ripped open, inviting the elements to wreak havoc.
All of that happened a literal lifetime ago… this generation didn’t know anything about hurricanes except for what they had heard or seen. We had dodged so many major storms over 22 years that it seemed like the weather alert was almost a practical joke. Almost. The moment I realized that it got real was after reports came out of [Antigua and] Barbuda and St. Martin/St. Maarten, just before Irma was scheduled to skirt past the north of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of course, I had been camped out on the National Hurricane Center‘s website from days before but somehow, the words “potentially catastrophic” didn’t quite sink in before this point.
To say that I started to get really anxious about what was coming our way would have been the understatement of the year. I mean, my mom trained me well from over 2 decades before to prepare every year as if a real storm would hit, but somehow, all those years of reassurance faded away with each WhatsApp message/headline/photo I saw.
We had stocked up on essential supplies since summer; hurricane season starts in June. Canned food, crackers, extra drinking/potable water, matches, flashlights, and batteries were already stashed away in the unfortunate event that disaster struck. For so many years, we just ended up having extra foodstuff and other things to use until the next season came around. In fact, I had to dust off my Island Gyul Hurricane Manual to share with my friend when she told me that Harvey was coming her way. On top of food and essential supplies, I reminded her to fill her bathtub with water, secure important documents and pack a ‘to-go bag’ in case she had to evacuate. The ultimate irony is that I would be needing my own advice more than she would–I just hadn’t realized it yet.