One week since Category 5+ Hurricane Irma hit our beautiful island of St. Thomas: We watched, nauseated, as we felt the storm build up through that Wednesday morning, but it still felt like the eyewall — every hurricane’s most devastating region, located just outside the eye — came upon us so suddenly. And so immensely.  And so terrifyingly.

Irma’s eyewall was many things to me.

Irma’s eyewall was a ferocious roar that I could never have imagined possible.

Irma’s eyewall was watching the French doors on the side of our “safe” basement start to shake and buckle as we rushed the kids into the small bathroom and barricaded the door. 1:15 pm.

Irmas’ eyewall was listening to that lashing fury and feeling fear for our children we never wanted to experience again. 1:45 pm. But we didn’t realize way worse was still to come. 

Irma’s eyewall was hearing our dogs’ whine turn into a high-pitched panicked almost scream as they too were filled with fear, tucked in their crates where we had barricaded them as best we could. 

Irma’s eyewall was listening to the propane tanks being slammed against the ‘sheltered’ wall behind our bathroom bunker and crashing sounds upstairs (we didn’t know it was our upstairs disappearing).

Irma’s eyewall was watching the sweet innocence of my 17-month-old making the motions to “Incy Wincy Spider” nursery rhyme on a tablet because she couldn’t comprehend the beast right outside. 1:55 pm.

Irma’s eyewall was a sudden powerful whoosh and the feeling that the inside of my ears were being sucked out. That was the French doors being ripped off. 2 pm.

Irma’s eyewall was now in our shelter, and she wanted everything in it.

Irma’s eyewall was placing my babies in the bathtub and protecting them with my body, wrapping my arms and legs around them, for the 5 hours that Irma tried to steal my family.

Irma’s eyewall was peeking out to see my husband bracing, desperately trying to hold on the bathroom door and wall. First, he watched the metal windows buckling and getting snatched away, then the inside walls being peeled away and the metal frames of the walls being twisted and folded by this fury called Irma.

Irma’s eyewall was lying in the bath as wind pulled at the camping mat I clung to, to cover my babies from endless debris flying around. When the storm demolished the closet behind my head, the camping mat had been thrown at me. And it protected us.

Irma’s eyewall was me repeating “it’ll be over soon” over and over for two and a half hours to calm my kids, but also, I realize, to calm myself at moments hearing the higher-pitched terror in my voice as it felt like it would never be over. How was it not over? How could we possibly hold on much longer? I could feel the bathtub shaking…

Irma’s eyewall was cold rainwater starting to fill the bathtub. I couldn’t sit up, or my children would be ripped from my arms, so I desperately tried to keep my baby’s head above the rising water. I shivered uncontrollably until my littles couldn’t help but pee themselves. It broke my heart as it warmed that water. 

Irma’s eyewall was utter panic when the remaining wall started to fall in on top of us, but returning to a stoic, anxious calm after husband’s reassurance that it was the closet and not the cistern wall that was collapsing 

“It’ll be over soon…” “It’ll be over soon…” “It has to be over soon…”

Irma’s eyewall was finally moving on — around 5 pm. But she was tricky, whirling back with a sudden vicious roar we could hear building running at us, slamming debris around outside and savagely trying to rip out the half wall that remained above our bathtub. Was she coming back around again? There’s no way we would make it.

Irma’s eyewall was the unbelievably huge relief when we could talk to each other again and believe that she was dying down and that we were going to survive — finally 7.30 pm. The longest and most terror-filled 5 hours of my life that I would wish on no one

Irma’s eyewall was being pulled out of the rubble by incredible neighbors who welcomed us into their home and who have become like family in just a few days

Irma’s eyewall was feeling so stunned and grateful to all be alive that, when you look up after climbing out of the rubble, you don’t care that the top floor of your house is gone. Roof, walls, everything. Your home — gone. But you are alive, and together 

Irma’s eyewall was an incredible community coming together to help each other survive, move on and rebuild.

We are good. We are lucky to have had friends take us off the island until we find a new home and things settle down. But St. Thomas is home. We are conflicted and filled with guilt for leaving, but it’s the right thing to do for our children right now.

Irma’s eyewall was devastating to my beautiful home of St Thomas, bringing huge turmoil and hardship for so many. It will be many months before power is restored to most of the island. Forget about the piddly ten days people are worried about in Florida — I mean no disrespect to those also devastated there because it’s awful anywhere — but US territories are often forgotten, and recovery on an island territory is painfully slow. Water, fuel, basic food supplies are all out or running low. 

St. Thomas needs help and support beyond what its exceptional people can give each other. 

Please consider donating to the Virgin Islands Community Foundation or the St Thomas Family Resource Center — great organizations which will ensure funds go directly to help the people of this wonderful island. 


SOURCELucy Keatts
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  1. Matthew’s eye wall brushed our island house last year and did some damage, but Matthew was not one of these true killer storms. We held our breath as these monsters this year plowed their way through the islands. We feel so sorry for the folks who have lost so much, not just material things but their refuge, their community, their island home.

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