It has been a rough ride being hit by 2 category 5 hurricanes within 2 weeks in September 2017 and we are finally back online with high speed internet via a satellite dish we mounted on our roof terrace. The fiber optic cables for DSL and TV are still down in January 2018, 4 month past hurricane.
The maximum gust measured on St. John (before meter blew away) was 277mp/h (!) and the highest sustained windspeed was 207 mp/h, the highest sustained windspeed ever recorded anywhere in the world! These are numbers from local meters that were blown away in the storm so they are not part of the official recordings or statistics. In the official statistics, Hurricane Irma and Maria rank 2nd and 8th in the list of the strongest ever recorded Atlantic Hurricanes.
First of all, thank you to all our customers who have reached out to us with messages of support, donated money or sent us parcels with supplies and DVDs. Apologies in case you did not receive a thank you note, communications have been difficult and sometimes we were unable to link the facebook or instagram handles that messaged us to the real world name on the parcel. Also apologies if you emailed us and did not hear back we did not have internet for months and some messages might have been lost due to mailbox full or accidently deleted when going through 65.000 unread emails with a lot of them being spam. Please re-send your message and we will get back to you asap.
Our house, boat and paddleboards faired pretty well and sustained only minor damages considering the incredible wind speeds. We towed our 32 FS Regulator Powerboat (www.rockhoppin.com) out of the water and had it on a trailer in the boat yard, Captain Steve secured the trailer with sandscrews, straps, chains etc. to the ground and trees and yes, it stayed in place (some trailers were tipped over or went down the hill backwards).
The boat was hit by flying debris like pieces of roofing and rain that was pushed through any cracks with 200mp/h damaged some of the electronics like GPS, radar and sonar but it’s otherwise fine. A total of 450 boats were destroyed on St. John alone so we were very lucky. We have failed a claim with our insurance for the damages but have not received any money yet.
As for the paddleboards, all the expensive carbon raceboards are stored inside anyways so they are like new. I brought all the boards from the shed (fearing roof might go) and the smaller boardrack inside. Imagine how the house looks with 20+ paddleboards, all patio furniture, gas grills, potted plants and all the stuff you typically have outdoors inside, barely space to walk….
I left all the boards in the big board rack, I tied them all down with bungee cords and tied the board rack down as well to the ground and the side of the shed, I figured the heavier the better – it should weigh about as much as my jeep so hopefully does not get blown away. The Board Rack is sitting in a protected dip behind the house and stayed in place, the 1000+ lbs sunset deck however came flying down the hill, but thankfully landed just before the board rack and maybe even provided some shelter for the rack. So all these boards in the big rack are fine, just a few dings and broken fins.
I tied some remaining boards for which I had no space inside down onto the roof racks my jeeps, 2 hard boards and an inflatable on top (to protect car and boards from flying debris) so 3 boards on 3 cars each. The Jeeps roof racks are designed to withstand driving speeds of about 130mp/h (which equals much stronger wind forces) so I figured the boards are safe there. They were fine during Irma, but in Maria they were blown off the jeep while still tied to the racks, either the wind was worse in that corner in Maria or the roof racks and straps were just worn out from the first storm. One board I found up on our hill in 2 pieces a few more we found about 1 mile down in the jungle…….
The garden was quite a mess, lots of trees fell, most plants lost their leaves and all the papaya and banana trees were decapitated. There was no power, tv or internet for 3 months so cleaning up the garden was actually a nice task, I think I cleaned up about 4-5 pickup truck loads of debris (dead plants, pieces of wood, roofing and odd items) after the first storm, put up all the trees and cacti, planted new plants from seedlings and clippings and containers I kept inside.
It was actually quite relaxing to work in the garden without phone calls, emails, paddleboard deliveries. The garden and plants had actually already come back quite nice in only 10 days before second storm to only be decapitated again. The second cleanup was a bit more frustrating it felt a bit like ground hog day also as the wind came from a different direction those areas that still looked ok after Irma were now destroyed by Maria.
The most cumbersome part of garden cleanup was probably trying to right the fallen giant cacti constantly getting their thorns everywhere (yes, work gloves were sold out after storm I used strings to pull them where I needed). Now 4 months after the storm, the garden is back in full bloom, the decapitated Papaya trees have come back and are bearing fruits.
As for the house, we are facing the South Shore and our windows are facing mostly East and South so we did okay during Irma but lost some windows and shutters in Maria, lots of water coming in even where shutters and windows stayed in place the wind just blew the rain through the cracks. I don’t know a single house that stayed dry during Maria and in total we got 40 inches of rain……but compared to the damage of some houses in the same bay we were very lucky.
Lots of buckets and mopping up water (problem is no dryer to dry wet rags and towels without power) later the house is dry. We had thankfully put most of the electronics out of harms way only some DVDs and books got wet. Thank god it was really dry the week after Maria so with a nice breeze blowing and no rain everything dried quickly and we have no mold.
We are lucky that we are the first house on a small road right of the main road so we were able to get to town by car 2 days after storm, our neighbours down the road had to clear a few fallen trees before they were able to get out of driveway and people in more remote areas like Bordeaux could not get out to town for about a week.
Cruz Bay Town
Town was quite a sight right after the storm, there were large boats washed ashore just by the ferry dock (which have finally been cleared now in January) and the giant old 3 foot wide trees by connections came down. The blue building by round about that was supposed to be a storm shelter lots its steal beam roof with pieces lying everywhere and all that debris destroyed most cars parked in town, police cars driving around with missing windows and lights. The lumberyard complex is pretty much destroyed but the ice machine guy somehow manages to get his machines running supplying town with much needed ice (to cool groceries in absence of power). Ferries sunk by the ferry dock and car barge dock, so no boats can dock there for some time. The customs building in Cruz Bay is completely destroyed. Beach Bar and Wharfside sustained major damages and are still closed in January 2018.
Grocery stores quickly opened after the storms and there was enough non perishable goods available, the first shipments of fresh produce and meat arrived a few weeks later.
Aside from the damages and cleanup, the most annoying thing after the storms was probably not having power and internet. We got power back 3 months later, beginning of December and installed a 2000$ satellite dish to get internet as the DSL and cable TV lines are still down. Different from WAPA who had help from BBC power company from the Missouri with hundreds of lineman and trucks putting poles back up, the local cable provider Viya has to do everything on their own and it is slow. We do have a backup generator that powers the whole house (when we first moved in it took WAPA 6 weeks to turn the power on) so we had everything set up to run off the generator but you need to get fuel every day (with some times long lines at gas stations) and it’s expensive so we were running it about 6-8 hours a day which comes to about 800$ a month just for generator fuel. During these hours you have to get all your stuff done: showering, doing dishes, watering plants, cooking, charging phones, fill buckets with water, flush toilets, freeze ice to keep fridge cold etc. (the water comes from cistern so you you need power for water pump to get water).
It is amazing how you can spend 12 hours working without working your actual job, just doing the normal things like cleaning and getting food and fuel takes up the whole day.
There was one spot in town by the roundabout that had cell service (voice only) a few days after storm, when I heard about that and made it over there, I was just trying to call my family when the police came blaring the horns and using a speaker telling everyone to leave or they would be arrested (it was 5 minutes before 6pm when the curfew started). The data service came back on and off a few weeks after the storm, there was a hill on the back of the house where the sunset deck was so we would sit there and try to text or update facebook or instagram. I would usually try to post a photo, leave the phone up there and then 15min later it might have gone through or not.
the biggest problem for many people was probably that the banks were closed for at least a month (and ATMs not working, destroyed by storm and now power or connection), that means no way of getting any cash and all the re-opened stores and gas station only take cash (as no internet no credit card processing). Yes, the hurricane preparation guides tell you to have cash on hand, well you think ok for food and water and gas, maybe couple hundred bucks. But you will have to pay everything in cash for a month, that includes maybe new windshield for your car, construction materials to fix damages like rebuilding your deck or pool, maybe buy a new generator, pay contractors or trucking guys to pick up stuff and all the cleanup stuff you need like tons of trash bags, bleach, gloves, so we are talking thousands of dollars here. Lots of people were also unable to cash there last paycheck before the storm so that was a real struggle.
Aside from not being able to get cash from your account the biggest struggle for most locals is of course the lack of income as their place of work was destroyed and as there are no tourists yet. We used to have board rentals every single day, since the storms we have had only one board rental (2 boards for a week)…..
Is St. John ready for visitors past Hurricane?
I would say definitely yes, if you can live without cable tv and don’t mind little inconveniences like missing street signs. Over 90% of the houses have power now. The Westin and Caneel Bay will remain closed until 2019 but there are lots of villas and apartments that survived the storm and are available for rent. All grocery stores are open, there is plenty of food and produce.
A lot of restaurants were destroyed but there are enough bars and restaurants open for a fun night out. All hiking trails and beaches are open and the water is clear and has been declared safe to swim. Some of the beaches are actually nicer than before (wider due to sand deposited by storm and downed shrubs) and there are actually some new beaches that have appeared since the storm (due to sand deposits or places previously unaccessible due to vegetation). Everything is quiet and relaxed there is no struggle to find a parking space at beach and everybody is happy for any visitor showing up. The only place a little more crowded than before is the Starfish market parking its always full, lots of locals go there to conduct there business on the public wifi.
Repeat visitors will enjoy re-discovering their island, finding new beaches, driftwood sculptures on the beach and having different views from the hiking trails. I know a lot of you have helped with donations etc. but the best thing you can do for St. John is to come back and spend lots of money at the local businesses 🙂
For more photos and posts about the interesting last few months, check out our instagram www.instagram.com/supstjohn