Chuck’s Irma Diaries
After hurricane Irma, fellow Beef Island resident Chuck Krallman posted a daily commentary on his Facebook page.
It went viral.
His brilliant observations about the smallest detail of daily life in post-apocalyptic Tortola, mixed with some very dry humour and bowls of Quaker Oats, makes for gripping reading.
We asked him if we could curate them, in chronological order, for people to re-read.
And we made a map so you can get your bearings:
5th September – the day before
Thanks to all my friends who have messaged me regarding Hurricane Irma. If you’ve been following the storm, you know it’s now a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane with 180mph sustained winds and headed straight for Tortola. Unfortunately, my flights were cancelled and I’m stuck in the BVI, preparing to ride things out. I will most likely lose power and Internet tonight, so I may be out of touch for a few days. If you’ve visited me, you know my house is built like a bunker, so a few people will be coming over tonight for safe shelter. It’s going to be messy and there’s certain to be a lot of property damage, but everyone will be OK. Again, thanks for your well wishes. Prayers for all of my friends who are in its path in the Caribbean and Florida. Be safe and please don’t take any chances!
6th September – the day itself
No post from Chuck.
The eye of Cat 5 Hurricane Irma went straight through the middle of the British Virgin Islands around lunchtime. All power and communications went down.
7th September – the day after
5pm (30 hours after the eye of the hurricane)
To all my friends, I wanted to let you know that I’m OK. All the other people and pets that were staying with me are also good. The BVI has been absolutely devastated. There’s no power, phones, Internet or water. My house structurally withstood Irma with no problem, but several shutters got stripped off, which then sucked the doors and most of the contents of the affected rooms right out. Fortunately, my damage is mostly restricted to the contents of three rooms. My neighbors weren’t so lucky. The roof pulled off of the homes of my neighbors on my left and my right and the entire home of my neighbor across the street is now in my driveway. It got cleaned to the slab.
The roads are impassable. From what I can see, virtually all homes here are either completely destroyed or severely damaged, mostly missing roofs. All the boats that were securely moored for the storm have either sunk or have wrecked into the shore.
Virtually every tree in the BVI has broken in half, along with nearly all of the power poles being down. I suspect it will be weeks or months until power is restored because so many new poles must be set. I will try to button up the house as best I can then return to the States, but it will be a while.
If you’re in the path of this storm, I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous it is. I have been through multiple hurricanes in my life, including being in the eye of a Cat 4, but nothing even remotely compares to this. We were in the eye of Irma for more than an hour and the winds near the eye were sustained at 185mph+, at least one hour before and one hour after the eye. Gusts were over 200mph. Winds were 100-120mph for at least 6 hours and waves reached 40 feet. It’s a monster. If you’re in its path, please get out now.
Hi everyone – I have only two minutes of rationed generator left at a neighbor’s house. Hurricane Jose is scheduled to hit the BVI as a Category 4 storm on Saturday night. We’re preparing as best we can.
Hello, all. Here’s the latest from Tortola. I’m fine and all the people and pets I’m sheltering at my house are doing well. We’re desperately trying to batten down the house before Hurricane Jose strikes tomorrow night. It’s difficult without power and supplies. We’re scavenging sheets of plywood that have been strewn around to cover windows and doors that were blown out by Irma.
In my last update, I mentioned that nearly all homes have been severely damaged or destroyed and that 95% of all boats are wrecked. In addition, I’ve learned that nearly all cars have been destroyed, as well, and many have been piled up in big heaps by the wind. My trusty Land Cruiser lives, undamaged.
I understand all the prisoners are now free and there has been some looting in town, which is not good, obviously. The roads to my house are impassable, so that actually provides me a great deal of security – and there are several of us (and four dogs, which don’t all get along, by the way) staying at my house so I’m not concerned about my security.
Some military ships are on their way. Assistance can’t get here soon enough. A couple of emergency flights landed today, but I’ve heard our ports were destroyed.
It’s going to be a long slog to bring the BVI back to life, but I’m doing well. Please don’t worry about me. To all my friends in the path of Irma, please be safe!
I’m going to attempt to load some pictures if I can.
That’s my neighbor’s house in my driveway. Most cars were totally destroyed. In town, they are piled into heaps. So much for the lush landscaping…
Here’s the latest from the BVI… The people and dogs are still OK at my place and lots of loved ones have been able to reconnect recently.
There’s a lot of concern now about all the prisoners that are free, some of whom were serving life sentences. The island is under martial law and there’s a curfew in effect. I assume some military vehicles were brought in by helicopter yesterday because we saw patrols on the hills continuously after dark. I understand more military and other aid missions will be arriving today with food and supplies.
Hurricane Jose is supposed to be up to 140mph when it passes to the North of the BVI tonight. It will be a serious storm for us, but nothing like what we just went through. We’re not expecting a dead-on hit like we got with Irma, but we’re working frantically to batten-down things that have been weakened and preserve what we do have.
Some people, including one of the people staying with me, have been able to get off the island by charter plane. The airport is heavily damaged, the hangers have collapsed and the airport fire station has been swept away. I can’t imagine that commercial flights will be possible until there are fire vehicles ready.
I’ll say this, you see the true nature of people when they have to go through something like this. Fortunately, most people are truly giving, sharing, and taking care of their neighbors.
At my place, we should be fine tonight and my thoughts and prayers go out to all my friends in Irma’s path. The destructive power is immense. When you board up, make sure you don’t have even the tiniest gap between the plywood and the wall or the ply will be peeled off by the wind and you’ll then lose the window or door, followed by everything in the room. Don’t be brave. Many, many people have lost their lives – at least 20 on Tortola, I’m told. When things are more normal, I’ll share some of the harrowing escape stories from the people I’ve reconnected with who had near-death experiences. Nearly everyone I know here has lost everything. Please learn from my experience and take shelter. Be safe everyone.
There’s a lot of good news to report this morning. First and foremost, Hurricane Jose turned north and completely missed us. Thank God. It was packing 150mph winds and it would have obliterated what’s left of the BVI in its current state.
Second, and almost as important, the Cavalry has arrived in the form of British troops. After the initial helicopter drops of military equipment and crews on Friday, at least three fully load C-130 military aircraft began bringing troops to the airport yesterday. They’re set up camp at the airport, have secured the Beef Island bridge, by my house, and are deploying around the island. There is marshal law in effect and nightly curfews. Military and police are patrolling the roads at night with searchlights. The looting has stopped and order is being restored. The prisoners are still loose and I’m not sure what the plan is to deal with that, but security is tight now. The soldiers all have automatic weapons and they’re not messing around.
We have a brand-new Governor here, as of a few weeks ago. Talk about baptism by fire! He’s doing an amazing job, doing all the right things in the right order in a very short period of time. Behind the military will come several hundred police officers from other British islands, like Cayman and Bermuda. Two hundred British engineers are on their way, to start patching up the infrastructure, like getting power, water, and communications restored. Everything has been knocked out – and in a catastrophic way – so even the most essential services will most likely take weeks to get running. Outlying areas could take months because virtually power poles have snapped. I’m not sure of the priority of my neighborhood. I really appreciate being a British territory at times like this because not only is massive relief coming, it’s coordinated. God save the Queen!
The advantage of having multiple billionaires with places in the BVI is that many are activating major relief efforts. Richard Branson, who was staying in his wine cellar during the storm, is arranging relief efforts through Virgin. Larry Page, the founder of Google, who also owns an island here, is also putting together a relief effort. The multinational companies in the BVI have been arranging charters to evacuate their employees to other offices around the world.
The Administrative complex is destroyed so government won’t be functioning anytime soon. Fortunately, the largest grocery stores are open. I understand there are long lines, with people being let in in small groups to get essentials. All banks have been destroyed so these stores are allowing people to just sign a ledger, promising to pay later. Some business owners are being overwhelmingly generous. For example, the fellow who owns one of the local car dealerships is letting people just borrow the cars he has on his lot to do essential tasks.
A couple people walked Apart from a few people, the vast majority of BVIslanders are pulling together and helping each other out. A couple of my local friends have walked miles to my house to check on me. It’s heartwarming.
Because of the situation with all the dogs temporarily at my house (it feels like I’m running a kennel), as well as the people staying with me, I have not been able to venture far from my property. The road to my place is still impassable with fallen trees, home debris, and tangles of overhead wires. All the people who are staying with me, however, have been able to walk around the neighborhood to check on others and some have ventured into East End, a couple miles from my house, or gotten rides all the way to West End, on the other side of the island. They’ve come back with stories of devastation – especially in Road Town, the capitol. With so many people losing EVERYTHING, Road Town has been described as a scene out of a Zombie Apocalypse movie, with people just aimlessly walking around, not knowing what to do next.
Several ships are just offshore, with supplies. I’m not sure whether they’re being held off because of security concerns yesterday or whether they’re unable to dock. I expect massive amounts of aid to begin flowing in as soon as the ports are clear. I understand shipping containers are strewn about the port area, but now that reinforcements have arrived, that shouldn’t be too big of an impediment.
As I type this, I haven’t heard from all my friends in Florida. My prayers go out to them for their safety.
Chuck posted videos of his neighbours house
First, I’d like to apologize for my grammar mistakes in yesterday’s update. My normal proofreader had the day off. I would characterize yesterday as a day of continued stabilization. Some flights went in and out, evacuating women and children and a few people who chartered jets. Sadly, there was local BVI government red tape that prevented more flights from coming in. Today, I have heard that the military will play a bigger role in air traffic control and the floodgates will open and planes will be in and out every few minutes throughout the day, but so far this morning, I haven’t seen increased air traffic. Lots more soldiers are supposed to arrive today, which will mean the troops won’t be stretched so thinly. I’ll feel a lot better with more troops on the ground because all the prisoners are still roaming free. The military presence has stopped the looting, but it will be good when military and police reinforcements arrive. I’d say the main problem now is the military can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys and the bad guys are managing to get into damaged homes, pick through drawers and cabinets and take valuables. St. Thomas is apparently in the same shape we’re in, but at least we have a functional airport now – they don’t. I’ve just heard that some crews will leave here for St. Thomas today to help get flights going there, which may be as early as sometime today. I haven’t really been able to follow the news closely, but I understand Barbuda, an island to our East has been destroyed to the point of being uninhabitable. If that’s a 0 on a scale of 10, then the BVI is probably a 2. Someone told me this morning that at least partial service has been restored at one of the three cell companies. I’m still not getting signal on my phone, but when cell service is back, that will be an enormous step forward. Right now, there’s no way for anyone to communicate since all the land lines are down, as well as no cellular service. When people are trying to find each other, they must walk and then search, which can take hours. From what I’ve heard from those who’ve managed to drive around, there are a handful of large structures intact and with generator power, but it’s probably fewer than 10. Our brand new – and very large – hospital is fully functional and intact. Including the homes, I’m guessing 1% of the housing inventory is mostly undamaged and with generator power. I’m a step down from that since I don’t have power, phone or water, but I have a roof and all my walls. My generator is broken or I would be golden, relatively speaking, of course. My pool is slowly leaking water, but is still half full. It’s full of tree branches and dirt, but at least it’s H2O. We’ve been using that water to get the worst dirt off our dishes before we use clean water for the final step. We’re trying to ration our water since my house is supporting several people and dogs. Cold showers are a rare prize and I’ve managed to get one since last Tuesday. It’s sweltering hot now and there’s no breeze, but I’ll take that to storms and rain! With damp furniture, four dogs, and several unshowered people, things are a little “ripe.” Today, I’m going to use a crowbar to pry the stuck cover off my cistern, which has 30,000 gallons of clean water in it. We’ll lower a bucket so we’ll be able to wash our dishes and start to clean up. That’s the plan at least. I expect today will be a big day at my house, as we transition people and dogs in and out. Hopefully, my dog sitting days are numbered. We have two warring factions of two pairs of dogs and World War III erupts every time the dogs need to be walked. One of my guests should be able to get off the island today, but others may be moving into my house from other temporary shelter. As the Black Knight said in the Monty Python movie, “It’s only a flesh wound. I’ve had worse.”
Yesterday was a good day in Paradise. In our last episode of Chuck’s world, you may recall the quest for water. I’m happy to report success! I was able to pry the stuck cover off the cistern and access 30,000 gallons. There are some leaves on the top, but it’s pure rain water and suitable for washing things. It’s drinkable after boiling. I washed the accumulated dishes and started to clean up the kitchen and main areas. Little by little, at least some organization is returning.
The owner of one set of dogs returned yesterday and took them to his house, which now leaves two dogs that get along. Peace and quiet has been restored to the household, as well.
Yesterday was a day of transition, with one of my guests departing on an evac flight, but another homeless person arriving to spend the night before moving to more permanent quarters. I suspect this short-term musical chairs pattern will continue for a few days, as people find ways off the island, freeing some other places of shelter. Most of us are expecting it to take a few months before power is restored everywhere on the island because almost all the poles have snapped off. Certainly, some places will get power back faster, but even the highest priority areas will probably take many weeks.
The airport was much more active yesterday, with aid flights coming in and evac flights going out. I live on Beef Island, which is connected to Tortola by bridge. The main airport in the BVI is on Beef Island, right around the corner from my house, so I live in a very strategic spot. Lots more troops have arrived and the bridge to Beef Island now military guards most of the day so I’m finally feeling very secure. My house doesn’t overlook the airport, but homes a short distance around my street do, and one of them is now, or will be soon, housing eight soldiers. I still don’t know what the plan is for rounding up the prisoners, but with more and more security, the sense of danger has mostly passed – at least for me and those at my house. We’re still under marshal law with a 6:00pm curfew, and I expect that to continue for some time. At night, except for the airport and the light from a handful of places with generators, the island is completely pitch black and silent at night. It’s very eerie.
During the day, it’s interesting to see what’s happened to the wildlife. With all the bushes and trees gone, some birds are becoming much more aggressive, in search of food. Rats are more prevalent, as well as ants everywhere. One of my guests was driving in the mountains yesterday and saw an Emu running free. Now that’s weird. I have a few Crown of Thorns plants that survived and they’re attracting scores of hummingbirds. And the flamingos have returned to the salt pond! All my coconut and other species of palms at my house got flattened, except my three hurricane palms. Huh. I wonder how they got their name?
There’s an enormous, and increasing garbage problem. I still haven’t been able to get out of my driveway to get to Road Town, but I’m told the air is a bit, how shall I say, pungent? I see a few random fires on the hills, as people try to burn the accumulated waste and debris.
There are two pillars to the BVI economy, tourism and financial services, with more than half a million corporations headquartered here. Annual corporate fees represent the main source of revenue to the government, as well as providing revenue to the many law firms and trust companies. While tourism will be in a shamble for a long time, the financial services sector may start to breathe life as early as next week, which would be great news. There will be billions of dollars needed to clean up this mess. I’m wondering where it will all come from…
It’s clear the BVI will not be able to sustain the number of people who are here now for quite some time. There’s inadequate shelter for the homeless and thousands of people need to leave as soon as possible to put less stress on the fragile infrastructure – at least until power and basic services are restored. I’ve been offered help by many people who want to come down and lend a hand, but now’s not the time. No one should be coming to the BVI right now unless they’re part of an aid delegation.
My communications window every day is small, so I need to keep these updates brief. Please don’t try to text me, as it’s very difficult to respond. Email is probably OK, but I’m trying to update as many of my friends as possible using Facebook. It’s the most efficient means right now. Still doesn’t mean I like Zuckerberg.
For those of you who were wondering about the state of our charter boat industry, here’s a shot of the boats that were moved to a safe place and secured before the storm…
The Willy-T has been lost.
I’m inserting a dramatic pause here to let the gravity of that statement sink in.
Now, on to today’s update, which is a landmark one because this is the one-week anniversary of Irma’s little gift to the BVI. Last Wednesday at this time, the winds were just starting to kick up. By 9:00am, we had tropical force winds and we were still outside, on ladders, with battery-powered drills, in a last-ditch effort to shore up any potential weak spots as the wind increased. By 9:30am, those efforts were no longer possible and we all retreated inside. By 10:00am, we had hurricane force winds. By 11:30am, winds were up to 185mph and they sustained at that intensity, with gusts to 225mph. Water started flowing strongly under the doors and through electrical fixtures in the concrete. At that point, we didn’t know what was going to happen next and if we would have to move from our safe room. As bad as it was, we didn’t know if it could get even worse. At 12:40pm, we entered the eye. We cleared shutters and debris from our door and got to an inner hallway in the house to peer outside. From there, we saw 40’ waves crashing to the shore below. To my South, up Little Mountain hill, the old Governor’s mansion was in reasonable shape, but had lost part of its roof. At about 1:40pm, the storm resumed, but this time the winds were from the opposite direction. By 4:30pm, things had calmed down to the point we could walk around and try to find other survivors. I looked up the hill and the Governor’s mansion was toast. All the homes I could see were destroyed or heavily damaged. It’s hard to believe a week has already passed.
Since then, I’ve tried to post every day at a neighbor’s house on the other side of Little Mountain hill in my neighborhood. He has a generator and, somehow, kept a wired Internet connection through the storm even though all the poles are down (???). To ration diesel, he turns on the generator only a few hours per day and the Internet is very slow, but it’s been reliable. To get there, I must walk over the hill through downed trees and telephone poles and a tangle of electrical and phone wires. The road is still not clear to my house and driveway. It’s a difficult journey through the brush, even though it’s no more than a quarter mile.
I’ve seen it reported that 4K people in the BVI are still missing. I suspect the vast majority of these people are OK, but without reliable communications, it’s really hard to find people. Lack of good communications remains a huge issue. Cell service is being restored slowly and methodically, but hasn’t gotten to me yet. I understand a contingent will be arriving today with Sat phones that can provide WiFi. That will be great, if it works. Other people who have Sat phones have had inconsistent links. While aid is arriving, there has been no coordinated communication yet to let people know where to go. Some people are even running out of water and don’t know the location of aid.
The big episodes of looting ended when the first troops arrived and things came quickly under control, but I wish I could say the properties are now all safe. The prisoners are all still free and some people are still going into abandoned homes and rifling through things. Even as more and more police arrive from other British territories to help out, it will be difficult to stop crime completely for a while. We continue to have a nightly curfew and I’m hoping that stays in place for a few weeks.
Besides the communication issue, getting people off this island is a huge priority. Thousands of people need to leave as soon as possible because the infrastructure can’t support them. Only aid flights are coming and going and there are masses of people waiting for flights and boats. Lots of people are desperate to get out, by any means possible.
Thinking one step ahead, we’ll need thousands of tradesmen to enter the territory to rebuild. We’ll also need thousands of staff for the rebuilt businesses, as they reopen, to replace the people who leave and don’t come back. I’m praying the Government will streamline Immigration and Labor procedures to not let bureaucracy choke off our recovery.
My neighbor, who provides me this essential communication lifeline, is a smart international businessman who has seen the world. He is not one to exaggerate. He managed to get to Road Town yesterday and it was a sobering experience for him. He described the town as like a scene from war torn Syria. I would agree with that assessment. If you’re only seeing the pictures, you simply can’t imagine what it’s like here. In the States, when a disaster strikes Texas or Florida, there are highways. After the waters recede or the roads are cleared, crews can pour in from neighboring States and people can flow out. Here, it’s a tiny island. Multiply the logistical difficulties by least 100X.
On a positive note, everyone has lost a lot of weight, they’re looking much trimmer, and they’re getting in their 10,000 steps of daily activity. Oh, and I won’t be getting any big electricity bills for a while. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
If any of my Facebook friends have Hollywood connections, I think this would be a great location for next season’s “Naked and Afraid” or “Survivor: Tortola”
The big news in the BVI is that the fence is back up and the prison has been secured. There’s a large military presence there and prisoners are either returning voluntarily or being captured. A notice was put out that prisoners had 24 hours to return on their own. I understand that guns and other weapons are being found in the cars and places of shelter of the ones that have been captured. With a secure prison and all the military transport flights that have come in over the past few days, there are enough soldiers here now to capture and guard the bad guys and effectively enforce the curfew everywhere. This is a HUGE step forward.
Again, while I’ve got a lot of my own problems to deal with, it appears the Command and Control system is working. If the BVI were an independent nation and we didn’t have the British to coordinate everything, we would be in much, much worse shape.
I got a message yesterday that my cell company has restored some service in town, has overseas crews on-island to help, and will be working outwards from there. I’m hopeful I’ll be getting some cell service restored at my location within the next few days. On the communications link I’ve been using to send my reports, the Internet has slowed to a crawl in the last day as more people are able to access it. This morning, it was almost impossible to post on Facebook and I couldn’t upload any pictures before the generator was shut down. Next to getting the island secure, getting reliable communications up is the next most important priority.
Garbage disposal services have also started to resume and many accessible dumpsters have been emptied. This is also huge news to control the rat problem. Water has been turned on in some areas, but this has exposed many broken pipes and water is shooting into the air in places. I have city water as a back-up to my cisterns, but it’s not on yet at my house. When that comes back, it will also be an enormous step forward, because I will be able to flush toilets and clean throughout the livable areas, without having to lug buckets from my cistern. The net-net is that the pace of progress is increasing and I’m “hoping” the big steps forward continue.
When we gather at the end of the day, we all share news of what we’ve seen and learned during the day. I try to post the best information I have from the most reliable sources. I try to verify stories whenever possible. One quickly learns who has the facts and who exaggerates or just spreads gossip.#FakeNews.
My morning update will be very short today. There’s been the loss of a long-time family pet a couple of minutes ago at my neighbor’s house. This occurred at the place where I get my Internet access. It was an old dog and the stress was just too much, I suppose. I want to give the family some space.
I understand power has now been restored to some buildings in town that get their electricity through underground cables. The main commercial port is now open and another UK Navy ship is on its way. Water has even been restored to some areas. Along with the prison now secured, these are huge developments.
I still don’t have power, running water, land-line, Internet or cell communications at my house – and my road is blocked and I can’t get out of my driveway to get supplies. Everything has to be hand-carried through a tangle of trees, fallen power poles and down slippery hills to get to my place. One of the guys who lost everything and stayed with me during the storm, left a couple days ago and took my machete so I don’t even have the tools to clear things myself. That’s annoying because everyone knows how handy I am with a machete..
Someone forwarded me an article yesterday that the BVI isn’t eligible for aid through a GBP1.3B international fund because our country isn’t poor enough. This is criminal. I’ve said this before, but what people don’t realize, is that when a disaster happens in the US or UK or Germany, or any other developed country, an area of the country is affected, but not the entire country. People and supplies can move in and out of that area. People can stay with family members in other States and crews can be mobilized to move in. Here, it’s a tiny island and there’s no place to go. 100% of the country has been devastated. The logistics of moving supplies and aid is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. Thousands of people are living in ramshackle buildings with no walls and need to leave. Many people have lost everything, have no cash or clothes, and don’t have the money to leave. The BVI isn’t in the news cycle anymore, as the world focuses on the news of the day and Florida. I pray that international funds can be tapped and the British government doesn’t turn off the flow because of budget considerations.
And then the rains came.
Since Irma passed, we’ve been blessed with sunny weather. Until today. We’ve had occasional showers, which mixes with the leaves and mud to create very slippery conditions. As of yesterday, I heard the hospital needed more doctors and medical personnel to chip in, so hopefully accidents can be kept to a minimum while the infrastructure is so stressed. Besides all the other problems, it’s very easy to slip and fall, or be cut by roofing material, or step on a nail in a board during clean-up efforts.
The good news for today is that people are starting to clean up the massive mess around their homes. They’re picking up debris and sweeping up glass shards from broken windows. We’re still short of basic things necessary for this effort like machetes and hand saws to clear the brush away from doors and paths. I know this disaster has made me much more resourceful. I’ve discovered that combining Two Parts Hydrogen + One Part Oxygen = Delicious and Refreshing Homemade Water that would make Martha Stewart proud.
I reported earlier that the port was operating. The main supermarkets have now been restocked with large supplies of food. More areas are getting power restored as poles go up and new wires are strung. The mood of the island is now far less “panicky” than it was just yesterday.
Lots and lots of people are leaving the islands now. I heard, but cannot confirm yet, that one of the cruise lines will be sending a ship to evacuate people to Puerto Rico. That would solve several major problems in one fell swoop.
Communications are still severely challenged, but two cell carriers have managed to get service restored in Road Town. Road Town is in the middle of the island, and crews continue to work out from there. The WiFi node I’ve been using since Irma struck is now so slow it’s almost unusable. This morning, it took 10 minutes to load the Facebook page and another 10-20 minutes to post my report. If it deteriorates any further, I may not be able to post again for a while.
As for my situation, I was finally able to get to get to some buildings on my property that had been blocked by trees. I’ve now done an initial assessment of all the damage to my place, room by room. I’m working on a spreadsheet of everything that needs to be done. So far, I’ve noted more than 100 things that need to be repaired or replaced; some large and some small. Until I can get power, either through securing a portable generator or getting the mains back, I’m pretty much dead in the water. So I remain without power, water, phone, and Internet. I also desperately need a chain saw to be able to get out of my driveway. Some friends cleared a path on my road today, so if I can get my driveway open, I’m golden.
There’s a lot of stuff to do and it will be a challenge for me to get replacement items here – and to find the necessary skills to put everything right – but I am so, so lucky to not have major, structural damage. People look at their heavily damaged homes, usually missing roofs, and say, out loud, “Oh my God. Where do I even begin?”
I’m still astonished by what the wind could lift and carry. You’ve probably seen pictures of cars that were overturned or piled in heaps or 50’ catamarans that flew through the air. At my place, large chunks of the house belonging to the neighbor to my South flew completely over my house and ended up on the shore on the North side of my house. A 10 pound stone – a granite stone that’s completely round, mind you – got picked up on the South side of my house, and either was lifted over my house, which is 30’ tall, or somehow made its way through my house when some windows blew out. I found it in my pool, on the North side. I live 120’ above sea level and found a conch shell in my kitchen. How is this stuff even possible??? People have recovered my Nespresso capsules 500 feet away, on the other side of a hill. No sign of George Clooney. I’ve searched my entire property, and each of my neighbors’ places, and I still have no idea what happened to my full-size sofa.
Oh, yes. And how could I forget the mosquitoes? They’re swarming and they’re the size of lawn tractors. Mosquitoes, roaches and rats. We’ve got ‘em all. We’ve won the trifecta, baby! But seriously, the mosquito population exploded today and they’re very aggressive. We’re going to have an outbreak of diseases carried by mosquitoes unless something can be done quickly. There’s standing water everywhere. Sadly, I think this problem is only going to get worse.
It rained most of last night, with scattered thunder and lightning. And the mosquito population has simply exploded. When I walked the dogs this morning, within a minute, my legs were covered by mosquitoes, despite me spraying with Deep Woods Off, containing 25% DEET. Once outside, the dogs’ faces were instantly covered with them. There’s simply nowhere to hide. Shaking one’s arm or leg isn’t enough to make them fly away. They bite the moment they land and they stay attached until they are swatted. They’re so dense, one slap can kill several at a time. It’s unreal.
Last night, I was thinking of all the people who had lost their roofs or had their walls blown out. We’re still under curfew, starting at 6:00pm, so there are no headlights, streetlights, or lights in windows. People would have been huddled in a corner in their pitch-black homes, getting soaked with rain, and they would have been covered by mosquitoes. While I have reported a lot of progress in the past few days, the rains and mosquitoes have taken living conditions a step backwards again. Most people in the BVI were in misery last night.
Today is September 15th, which marks the approximate half-way point of the 2017 hurricane season. There will be lots more rain and it looks like more storms are brewing in the Atlantic. It’s too early to say whether they’ll strike us.
It was reported in the UK that 90 of 100 prisoners were now in custody. That’s incorrect and misleading. One would get the impression from that statistic that we could check that problem off our list. Well, first, there were 130 prisoners in our jail, so that means 40 are still roaming free. Second, the clear majority of those now being held would have returned voluntarily, during the amnesty period. Don’t get me wrong, I feel much safer now than I did two days ago, but that’s due to the curfew and increased military presence. The worst of the worst are most likely still out there and there’s still a lot of work to do to round them up.
All the people I provided shelter to during and after the storm have now moved on, either to better temporary conditions or they’ve left the island. I am still sheltering two dogs, neither of whom I knew prior to this storm. Neither of the dogs is very smart, but at least both believe Climate Change is real. Just sayin’.
OK, I need to fix some breakfast. Shall I have the oatmeal or the oatmeal this morning? It’s hard to decide. I think I’ll go with the oatmeal today to change things up.
I sprayed a layer of Deep Woods Off mosquito repellent on myself so thick it was like a slathered-on gel. I don’t know whether this is a condemnation of Off as a repellent or a testament to the will of the mosquitoes, but they still attack. But now, their wings get stuck in the gel and they become easy targets.
Normally, I post once per day, but the generator is still running so here’s a further update…
We had torrential rains just before noon that flooded the island and is causing more misery. Disease is a real possibility now. I’m going to post some pics…
These are pics of the flash flood that occurred about four hours ago.
Today marks Day Ten after Irma and it’s sort of the best of times and the worst of times. There are 500 British troops on-island. I believe police contingents from other British overseas territories are now here, as well. Yesterday, I was told that 110 of the 130 prisoners were in custody and the remainder were expected to be swept up within 24-48 hours. If that can be accomplished, the whole island will be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
I didn’t post what I’m about to tell you now because I didn’t want to worry my friends, but seeing that things are reasonably secure, I can tell this story…
Immediately after Irma, there was general lawlessness. There was looting and lots of people were walking the streets with machetes. I’m only a couple miles from the prison, but my road was impassable, with downed trees, tangled wires, and dangerous debris. There was no curfew but, in my house, we were feeling reasonably secure. That first night, we were all sitting outside. The moon was full and we were watching shooting stars, with the sounds of ocean waves gently lapping below us. If there had not been a devastating hurricane only hours before, we all would have been enjoying a beautiful, Caribbean night.
In the darkness, one of my guests thought she saw a flicker of light in a room of the mostly demolished house next door. It’s about 150’ away, normally hidden by trees, but there are no trees standing to block the view now, so we could clearly see every room. We went silent and watched intently to see whether the light was just a reflection. We saw the glow again. It was very faint; probably the light from a cell phone. We had heard that groups of prisoners had escaped, were armed, and were traveling together. We watched for a while. There were people in that house. I went to the kitchen to get kitchen knives and armed everyone. Henkels knives, by the way. They’re excellent. But I digress…
We shined all flashlights on every opening in the house. We were loud and made the dogs bark. One other guy and I took our knives and our most powerful flashlights and went to my driveway to see if anyone was approaching. The drive and the road were clear of people. We slide-bolted shut our main entrance doors behind us and then barricaded broken shutters and furniture against the other door opening that wasn’t secure. If someone tried to come in during the night, we’d hear them. The lights next door didn’t come on again. We went to bed, with multiple people and dogs in each room. Everyone kept knives within easy reach. It was a tense night.
The next morning, the person who had been house-sitting next door discovered the lock had been picked and people had stayed there. They had rifled through things, but didn’t take anything. They were there for shelter. With the road to my house being impassable, I thought we were more secure. But the criminals were looking for a remote hideout, where the military and police couldn’t easily find them. The next day, the soldiers started arriving by transport plane and, little by little, order was restored. When the last of the prisoners is behind bars, it will be a happy day.
The Premier began touring the Territory yesterday, holding the first of many meetings with business owners in each of the Districts. He outlined plans, reported progress, and answered questions. The biggest grocery stores are now open during limited hours, with a good supply of food. The banks are also open a few hours per day and many have suspended loan repayment requirements. A few gas stations are open and I understand four restaurants are now at least partially operating across the island. Relief supplies are coming in, slowly but surely.
The BVI Government Immigration and Labor departments are now operating, I’m told with expedited processing to not slow down recovery efforts. Many people are evacuating to San Juan, but the US is not accepting anyone unless they have US or Canadian passports or ESTA clearance. I’m not sure how the thousands of people here from the “down islands” will be getting home, as there are no commercial flights or ferry services to those places yet – and many have lost everything and don’t have any money.
Yesterday, the skies opened for a couple of hours and a flash flood devastated the fragile recovery efforts. Torrents of water streamed down the mountain roads, carrying road sections and house debris. One of my friends was driving on the mountain road when the rains started, attempting to get to town. Her car nearly got swept away. Her journey was terrifying. Road Town got swamped with water and levels started to rise inside buildings. Cars stalled in the streets. With the mosquitoes swarming and now flood waters carrying dead animals, disease is a real risk. While, in many ways, recovery is happening even faster than I expected, an incident like this puts us back a few steps again.
As for me, I remain without power, running water, Internet, land line and cell communications. I’m able, twice per day, to get this Internet link at a neighbor’s place.
But after the downpour yesterday, the sun is shining this morning. On my walk (climb?) from my house to the place, I noticed the first buds of green growth. The BVI will be back, better than ever.
For those of you who’ve been following my daily reports, I’m sure you’re wondering what I had for breakfast this morning. I chose the oatmeal.
This was just posted in the Daily Mail in the UK. There are many inaccuracies, but it ain’t that far off:
The new disturbance now has the name Maria and is a Tropical Storm. If it follows the path that NOAA is predicting it will pass 50 miles south of Road Town as a major Hurricane with max sustained winds of 120 mph and gusts to 150 mph. No one needs more suffering down there that’s for sure!
It now appears we will be struck by Hurricane Maria on Wednesday. It is strengthening quickly. Needless to say, if we take a direct hit, it will be very, very bad.
Last night, we had a strong thunderstorm with a period of heavy rain. The thunder and lightning kept me awake, but at least I was protected and dry. There are thousands of people who don’t have adequate shelter. The rains, combined with the inescapable mosquitoes, would have made last night misery once again. Even people who are reasonably well off and have generators shut them off at night to conserve diesel. It’s hot, with no breeze, and no one has slept well for the past 11 days.
Some of the Expat managers and small business owners, shell-shocked by the whole experience, and having lost most of their things, have simply gone. Sometimes, they catch the first available evacuation flight or ferry and leave behind their pets, cars and remaining belongings. Often, they don’t leave any instructions, or even notice, to staff. Files and wet checkbooks are abandoned and others must now try to piece things together. One 60-year-old small business owner who’s had a successful business here for almost 20 years, lost everything and decided he’s too old to start over. He’s packing what he has left and returning to the States. He won’t be back.
A neighbor stopped by yesterday and we were talking about how this experience has not only exposed people’s true characters, but also their ability to cope with high stress levels. Of those staying with me after the storm, a mature, 40-something manager of a marina, responsible for the property and 24 large boats, immediately abandoned everyone and everything. He somehow managed to get on one of the first evacuation flights with pregnant women and children. At the other end of the spectrum, a 22 year-old young lady, in her first job after University, was the strongest and most responsible.
Without exception, those I’ve spoken with have told me how this experience has permanently changed their lives. It’s given everyone a chance to re-set their direction and priorities. The people who were born here are a resilient lot and are mostly working tirelessly. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the Expats return to the BVI and rebuild.
I believe I reported that the last two dogs I was caring for were gone. I spoke too soon. They’re back. But I did experience more than two hours yesterday of blissful peace and quiet. For the past few days, the dogs were being kept in my living room, which was one of my few rooms left completely intact and undamaged. My nice carpet is now a patchwork of dog poop. Imagine a Jackson Pollack in mostly brown shades. I guess I was growing tired of that carpet, anyway.
We are still lacking basic supplies like tarps, generators, and chainsaws, but I understand those things are on a large ship heading this way. Plywood is scarce but, again, I understand a load of ply is on a barge, now on its way from Florida. In fact, lots and lots of stuff should be somewhere in the pipeline, but is not here yet. Fuel is flowing and there’s food in the main stores, but that’s about it. People are cleaning up, but we really need tools, materials, and power from portable generators to make substantial progress. There’s only so much that can be done with machetes and hammers.
The mosquitoes continue to be a major, major problem. If there was ever a time for mosquito fogging, it’s now. I understand my daily posts are widely read. If anyone has a way to get the island fogged by airplane or helicopter, that would be an enormous help. Having said that, there are disaster specialists from the UK on the ground, so I’m sure they’re on it.
My oatmeal was especially delicious this morning, by the way.
Well, I wish I had better news this morning, but it now seems certain we will be blasted by Maria. It’s projected to be a major hurricane by the time it passes just to the South of the BVI. Although it’s not as intense as Irma (which isn’t saying much since Irma was the strongest storm ever recorded), it is much larger in area. Even though it’s clipping along at 15 mph, we will experience tropical storm and hurricane conditions over most of two days, rather than the eight hours of terror we experienced with Irma.
Right now, it’s a beautiful morning and today is supposed to good. We will start to feel nasty weather tomorrow morning, with rain and 40-60 mph winds. With sharp slices of galvanized roofing material flying around, it’s possible it will be too dangerous for me to walk from my house to this place to get on the Internet. If so, my last update for a while could be a short status report at the end of the day today. By tomorrow afternoon, it’s being reported that winds will pick up to 50-70 mph, increasing to 100 mph by nightfall. 5-8 inches of rain is expected.
By Wednesday morning, winds will reach 100-115 mph and another 5 inches of rain will fall. By Wednesday night, winds will still be approaching 100 mph and an additional 5” of rain could come down. By Thursday morning, winds will drop to 70-90 mph and by Thursday night, the storm will have passed. That means I will be holed-up, without the ability to communicate from, potentially, Monday night or Tuesday morning until Thursday night or Friday morning. You may not hear from me, but I’ll be safe in my house.
In normal times, the BVI would almost be able to “shrug off” a hurricane like Maria. Now, this sort of storm will bring chaos and misery.
Last Friday, we had a flash flood that wreaked havoc. The town was completely underwater and buildings and cars were swamped. I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’ll bet all that flooding was caused by less than 6” of rainfall. The ground is saturated and the island’s drainage system is completely wrecked. Even though we will not get a direct hit, Maria will bring steady rains and hurricane force winds for the better part of two days. It won’t be safe to move because of all the flying debris. People’s homes are already open to the sky. Where will everyone go? I wish this were a more positive update, but there’s no way to put a positive spin on this storm.
Personally, I had a lot of help yesterday at my house. The places that were weakened or blown out by Irma are now buttoned-up about as well as can be. I was also able to get my car out of my driveway, make my way to town, and completely re-supply. I’m now stocked with plenty of water, pasta and sauces, and – wait for it – more oatmeal.
Sadly, the sidewall of my rear tire must have scraped a piece of metal roofing on the way home because my trusty Land Cruiser now sits in the driveway on a flat tire. Changing the tire will be my morning project. The 20-year-old beast started and ran well before the tire incident, but the engine and brake warning lights are now on, some of the windows won’t come down, and the A/C no longer works. Somebody please tell Oprah I’m serious about that car thing.
On my drive to town, what stood out is how most houses seem to have almost exploded, with their walls, roof pieces, and all the contents flowing hundreds of feet down the sides of the hills. I’m not sure how the mess will ever be cleaned up. I guess new plant growth will eventually cover all galvanized roof panels and debris strewn over what seems like every square foot of the BVI. One of the British Commandos, who has been deployed in several war zones, said Tortola looked worse than any war zone he’s been in. In a war zone, when bombs or shells hit buildings, the buildings and surrounding areas are leveled. Sometimes, large areas of a city are in rubble. In the BVI, the whole COUNTRY has been devastated.
When Irma was at its peak, I could look outside through a small window. The first thing I thought of at the time was a scene from a video I had seen years ago of nuclear bomb testing in the Bikini Islands after World War II. At the instant of the blast, the palm trees went completely horizontal. That’s what Irma was like. It simply flattened, or snapped off, every single tree in the territory. Whole mountainsides are bare of vegetation down to the dirt.
A lot of people have been asking me where aid can be sent. I’ll try to get some answers and post that information the next time I get online. Sending things here right now is pretty much impossible. A few local businesses tried to Fedex critical things from the States right after the storm, but the shipments are still sitting in Puerto Rico.
Commercial flights were set to resume, but Maria will no doubt stop those. In fact, all local planes will be flying out today to stay safe from the approaching storm. I assume the airport will close tonight as the winds pick up, but I don’t have any information on that.
Sir Richard Branson has been a star. He, along with a few other people with jets, have been instrumental in providing urgent relief efforts.
I’ve been inundated with Friend requests from people who want to read my earlier posts. My Internet connection is better now, so I scrolled back through my timeline and made all my posts public from the day before the storm.
My updates will be suspended later today or first thing tomorrow morning because of Maria, but I will resume them and keep them going for a while, to continue to bring attention to our massive problems. The BVI is mostly out of the news cycle now, with North Korean missile launches, the bombing in London, the Florida recovery and, most noteworthy, the latest from the Kardashians.
For Maria, as with Irma, I’ve invited people to stay with me if they’re at all concerned for their safety. I don’t know how many will take me up on the offer. Presumably, all those who love oatmeal. Oatmeal’s not just for breakfast anymore, you know.
This may, or may not, be my last report for a few days, depending on the weather in the morning. If the winds have kicked up too much, I may not attempt the walk over the hill to get an Internet connection. The last thing I need is to be struck by a piece of flying metal roofing.
Apparently, there’s some confusion about the size and intensity of Hurricane Maria. From the latest I’m reading, Irma will be a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, but the eye will pass to our South. Sadly, the track is moving a bit closer to us, so we are now projected to get 125 mph winds. The high winds, coupled with debris already strewn everywhere, will create a very dangerous, situation. The BVI will experience strong tropical storm or major hurricane conditions for the better part of two days, making life dire for the people whose homes have already been ripped apart.
If there’s a shred of good news, it’s that nearly all the escaped prisoners are now in custody. It won’t be long before they’re all captured.
Up to now, the restoration efforts have progressed faster than I had imagined. Maria will certainly set us back, but crews will be back work immediately after it passes.
As I’ve mentioned, my access to the Internet is rationed. Sometimes my time online is very brief before my neighbor shuts-down his generator to conserve fuel. This morning, I was frantically trying to get my update posted and answer critical email while I had a signal. Please understand that I’d love to respond to all your questions and comments, but there’s just not time. If everyone can limit their communications to me to Facebook posts and emails or private messages, that would be a big help. Avoid communication channels like WhatsApp, Slack, Skype, and text messages to my phone. So much is going on during the short periods I can get on the Internet. It can be overwhelming.
Thank you for all the oatmeal recipes I’m receiving. When the movie comes out, I’ll make sure Quaker Oats gets prominent product placement.
Hurricane Maria was a catastrophic Category 5 storm when it passed last night. In fact, it was reported this morning that it was one of the top 10 storms ever recorded in the Atlantic. Fortunately, it was far enough to our South that we didn’t feel its full effects. We got strong tropical storm force winds and rain, but it didn’t cause more widespread devastation. I’m sure there is quite a bit of new damage in the BVI, but it’s nothing compared to what we got with Irma. We were very, very lucky. I haven’t heard any reports from St. Croix, which would have been nearer to the eye, but I’ve heard there has been flooding on St. Thomas and the entire island of Puerto Rico is now without power. It’s astonishing that we have been impacted by two of the ten strongest hurricanes ever recorded – and in one season.
At my place, I’m sheltering three people and four dogs. If you’re wondering, these are the same two pairs of dogs that stayed with me after Irma. The dogs hate each other, but the owner of one of the pairs is now here and he’s had a calming effect on his pets. We also have new procedures in place to keep the dogs separated and never in line of sight of each other.
Maria is moving well away now, and although there are still bands of rain, winds are dying down and the weather is slowly improving. Things are peaceful in the house and it’s just like one, big happy family. This morning, it was oatmeal for everyone. Mmmmm.
I’m not a writer or journalist, but I try to use best journalistic practices for these updates. Except for the first day or two after Irma, when information was beyond scarce and I had to rely on the reports of others without verification, I since have written only about things I have seen with my own two eyes or gathered from the first-hand reports of others, after verification from a second source. I learned very quickly the sources that could be trusted.
I began this series of Facebook posts simply to update my friends and the people I care about. I wanted to provide an unfiltered and personal view of the situation on the ground. As my posts got re-posted and became more widely read, I felt a responsibility to continue them. The BVI was disappearing from the news cycle and I hoped my writings would help get the word out that our situation was still desperate.
Having said that, I’ve been told that my updates have not been positively received by some here. Some people felt, I was told, that my reporting of the negative news would keep tourists from coming back and would harm our recovery. I was very disturbed by this and considered stopping my posts.
After thinking things through during the passage of Maria, I’ve decided to continue, at least for a while, because some of the stories I’ve seen on the Internet have not been representative of what’s really going on down here or they have been sensationalized.
We live in the age of Social Media, and the world knows about the many problems we had before the military arrived. They can’t be hidden. I’m trying my very best to provide a balanced view and I hope the people who’ve complained represent a tiny minority.
Since I’ve heard stories that are wildly inaccurate and I’ve been asked many good questions via Private Message, I’ve decided to play a game of FACT or FICTION. The views expressed below are my own, so take this for what it’s worth. Here goes…
“The UK was slow to respond and the initial response was poor.” FICTION. I understand the UK Media criticized the efforts of the UK government immediately after Irma. While the French or Dutch may have reacted more swiftly (which was what was reported), it was only about a day before the UK military arrived in force, in wave after wave. Elite forces acted quickly to bring order to the territory and to start rounding up the escaped prisoners. They were instrumental in getting the airport up and running.
The Governor, newly appointed to his post here, has been outstanding. Yesterday, he reported the prison was secure, only seven low-risk prisoners remained at large, and military personnel were deployed at the prison, in addition to normal prison security staff, to keep the bad guys behind bars during the passage of Maria. From my perspective, the UK response has been terrific and I thank God for everything they’ve done.
“It will take years for the BVI to bounce back, if ever.” FICTION. The BVI was devastated, and still looks like a war zone, but I was astonished at the pace of the recovery and restoration process. I was seeing major progress, not just day to day, but from morning to evening curfew. The main food stores were open and even taking credit cards, some gas stations had reopened, and plenty of food and fuel was available. There were long lines because of panic buying, but I suspect things will be more normal from here on out since Maria has passed and the Governor has assured the public that we have large stocks of food, water and fuel. We had a setback with Hurricane Maria, but I expect efforts to pick up largely where they left off a couple days ago.
As I look ahead, it’s my opinion that the charter boat industry will bounce back quickly, for several reasons. First, the BVI still has its beaches, its gorgeous weather, its dive sites and its natural wonders, like the Baths. At least 85% of the charter fleet here has been destroyed or badly damaged, but I understand a lot of the boats are repairable, assuming the Government enables the free-flow into the territory of skilled boat repair people from North America. If bureaucracy and friction is minimized, and the Free Enterprise system can work, the right skills will flow here, and they will be able get many boats operational again. Second, by their very nature, boats can move around. In a normal year, some boats relocate from the Med to the Caribbean around this time of year. I’m hoping whole fleets can be repositioned this year. Third, if a few restaurants and bars can be made operational on the outer islands, like Jost Van Dyke, Norman Island, Cooper Island, and others, charter boat tourism could be viable. Structures could be simple. If labor and materials flow, I believe the upcoming season could be salvageable.
Land-based tourism could take longer to come back, but there are already signs that some places will be ready to go before Christmas. Many restaurants and resorts suffered only minimal structural damage, even though they are still covered with debris. A half dozen restaurants scattered around Tortola are already open and serving. Near me, I have been told by management that Surfsong, Red Rock restaurant, and Penn’s Landing marina will all be operational in December. Again, with the caveat that government allows labor and material to flow-in freely, some land-based tourism could be possible this season. And these are the tropics. As brown as the landscape looks now, we’re in rainy season and the hills will be verdant again in a few short weeks.
“People are leaving and won’t be coming back.” PARTLY FACT AND PARTLY FICTION. People who were born here are a resilient lot. Most folks are banding together, helping each other. My neighbor across the street, who has lived his whole life in the BVI, told me, “I believe everything happens for a reason. We should look at this as a wake-up call in the territory and consider it an opportunity for re-birth.” The clear majority of people who were born here, and Expats who have built their lives here, are staying and vowing to rebuild things better than ever.
Many, if not most, of the Expats that were on 1-2-year contracts, like teachers, managers, accountants and lawyers, for example, have probably already departed. With no vested interests here, I doubt they return. When they were desperate to get out, some left in shamefully bad ways, but that’s human nature. Some people step and others don’t in time of crisis. The BVI will be back and offer long-term opportunities, so many new people will come in to replace those who’ve left.
“The BVI is still in dire need of relief.” FACT. Thousands of people are living in deplorable conditions. Roofs are gone, as are windows and doors. Essential supplies, like generators, chainsaws, plywood and tarps are still in short supply.
With the main grocery stores and gas stations already open, a semblance of normal life was returning, pre-Maria. Some containers of food, water, clothing, diapers and other essential items, are already on the island. A lot of aid is reportedly in the pipeline, and will arrive soon. Maria put an abrupt stop to relief efforts, but I expect things to be back in full force tomorrow. The challenge, for groups like the local Rotary, is distribution. It’s critical to quickly get these supplies to the people who need them the most throughout the territory.
I’ve seen crews only from our local electricity corporation on the roads, setting new poles and stringing wire. They’re working tirelessly, but I was hoping I’d also see trucks and crews from other places to help. Once power is restored to most areas, massive steps forward will be possible.
So far, most of our aid has been coming to us through Puerto Rico. Dozens of flights and boats were transiting back and forth daily. With Puerto Rico getting a direct hit from Maria, we will certainly feel a major impact.
Aaaah, life as a war correspondent. That’s what I feel like. I just need someone to shoot video of me with the troops.
Maria has passed and the sun even started to peek out this morning for a couple minutes. We’re still under a curfew, but I expect it to be lifted this morning. The curfew’s been in place since Monday night, so, this morning, I won’t be able to offer many eyewitness accounts of life beyond my house and its immediate vicinity. Once I’m able to get out again, I’ll be able to share more.
It’s amazing how very large boats got tossed around by Irma. There are 45’ catamarans that have flipped upside down and some that are perched on the second stories of buildings. The live-aboard boat belonging to one of the people staying with me is resting on its side, well inland. It weighs 40,000 pounds. He has no idea how he’s going to recover it. There’s no way to get a crane to it by land and no way to get a barge to it by sea. Boats have sunk everywhere, often in navigable waters, blocking other boats from coming in or going out of some marinas.
Hurricane Maria did far less damage than Irma, but many boats that were OK the first time around, sank during Maria. One of my guests will attempt to save three large sailboats today that are slowly sinking. They have no power and, therefore, no working bilge pumps. He’s frantically trying to go from one boat to another via a dinghy with a portable generator and water pump. So far, he’s managed to pump water out at about the same rate it’s been flowing in. Obviously, this is not a sustainable situation.
A few days ago, I mentioned that I pried the cover off the cistern under my kitchen and had access to 30,000 gallons of rainwater. We’ve used this water for cleaning, washing dishes and flushing toilets. It’s been very convenient. That’s the good news. The bad news is we’ve discovered mosquito larvae in the buckets of water we’ve hoisted up. In normal times, the solution is to release a few guppies into the cistern to eat the larvae, but where am I going to find guppies now? I’ve been evaluating my options in dealing with this and none of them are good.
It’s been more than two weeks since Irma roared through and we’re all covered by cuts, bites and skin rashes. It ain’t pretty.
Dinner last night was almost civilized, however, as my guests and I were able enjoy some nice wine with our nightly pasta. It’s pretty much been pasta every night and, as anyone who has been reading my posts will know, Quaker Oats brand oatmeal is my morning staple. Note that I’m providing the brand name of the oatmeal now. I’m hoping for a rich endorsement deal from The Quaker Oats Company, in Chicago, Illinois, when all this is over. The container says I can call 1-800-555-OATS with my comments.
This morning, all the people and pets I sheltered during Hurricane Maria have gone. A jar of dog treats got left behind. I wonder how that stuff would taste on pasta? The dogs love it.
First, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and the other islands devastated by Maria. They felt the full fury of the storm. We were just swiped by it.
The San Juan airport (SJU) represents a lifeline to the BVI so their dire situation will have a direct impact on us, for sure. SJU will re-open for commercial flights today. A lot of our aid was being consolidated there, before being loaded on planes headed for the BVI. I don’t know what effect this will have on the BVI-bound supplies that were already in San Juan, or our supply chain going forward. Several small container ships were making regular journeys back and forth to PR and I’m sure those runs will be affected in some way.
Here in the BVI, post-Maria, we’re back on a bumpy road to recovery. Progress is everywhere, and several more bars and restaurants have restored some basic kitchen functions.
There’s still marshal law and nightly curfews, but the sense of danger and panic has passed. Our airport is on Beef Island, and I live on a hill, around the corner from the airport. The military has based itself there. Every night, from my vantage point, I see caravans of vehicles leave for nightly patrols. These are usually local rental cars, filled with marines in full combat gear and armed with automatic weapons.
While Maria was subsiding, a few people tried to seize the opportunity and loot unoccupied properties. Eight people were caught and immediately taken to jail. There’s a zero tolerance to looting and the government is encouraging anyone with videos of the initial episodes to come forward so the perpetrators can be identified and dealt with.
Except for the isolated incident I just described, the BVI seems like a safe place again. Even though major food stores and gas stations have reopened – and there’s plenty of food, water and fuel – there’s still panic buying of fuel for some reason. Gas stations have long lines that tie up traffic for what seems like miles. A journey to town that would normally take 20 minutes can now take 2 hours. The Governor has made it clear that plenty of fuel is now on the island and there’s no need for this panic buying, but people keep doing it.
More transport planes and ships are arriving daily, bringing supplies in and taking people out, but my biggest news this morning is that the HMS Ocean has arrived, which is the largest warship in the Royal Navy. It’s dropped anchor and I’m looking at it right now, along with a couple of other container ships off-shore. The UK government relocated it from the Med, where it was assisting with refugees.
The Ocean is carrying 60 tons of aid for us, including more than 5,000 hygiene kits and 500,000 water purification tablets. It has onboard nine helicopters and 200 personnel, four landing craft and ten 4X4 trucks, that were donated by Gibraltar. It can generate electricity to supply eight thousand homes. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get that power to all our homes and businesses without power poles and lines. I understand the Ocean has torpedo defense, so that makes me feel even safer.
Power has been restored to sections of the territory now, but the Electricity Corporation has warned that some wires might now be live – which is obviously a dangerous situation. There are fallen and cut wires everywhere.
Mosquitoes continue to be a major problem, but programs are being implemented to deal with them island-wide. Thanks for all your suggestions for dealing with the mosquito larvae I have in my cistern. With the local branch of “Guppies R Us” still closed, I’ll have to find a different solution. Regarding the Clorox idea, my main problem with that approach is that my cistern is divided into three chambers and there’s no way to circulate the Clorox. Your thoughts and leads have been very helpful, though, and I’m sure I’ll get that problem solved today – or very shortly.
If I can get less restricted access to the Internet, that will be huge for me, as I still don’t have any communication (or power or running water) at my house.
One of my neighbors has a generator and that’s how I’ve been able to post these updates every day, but my time windows have been limited since they’re trying to conserve diesel. I’ve been able to wash daily but, last night, I enjoyed my first hot shower since Sept 6th. Not only was I able to get a hot shower, I relished a great curry meal with friends, along with some nice wine, so I didn’t have to resort to eating the leftover doggie treats. This morning, I again savored a delicious bowl of Quaker Oats brand oatmeal, manufactured by The Quaker Oats Company, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Life is good.
As of yesterday, I’m no longer sheltering any people or pets at my house. I need to start attending to essential things for myself, like taking inventory of everything that needs to be repaired or replaced, documenting my losses with photographs, and filing insurance claims.
There’s nothing brewing in the Atlantic right now, but the reality is that we’re only about two-thirds of the way through the 2017 hurricane season and, historically, the most violent storms usually happen later in the season. Fingers crossed. I think we deserve a break down here. ‘Ya think?
My crack writing staff needs a well-deserved pause so, unless things ratchet-up for some reason, I am going to cease daily, scheduled posting. Instead, I’ll post irregularly, when there are major developments or when we achieve important milestones. You know, like if there’s an island-wide oatmeal shortage.
Thank you, Sarah Robinson, for creating Quaker Oats’ next product release…
“Love your posts. The Quaker Oats Company of Chicago, Illinois better step up their game. There’s a new face of Oatmeal in town.
The BVI is a beehive of activity. With the HMS Ocean anchored offshore, helicopters take-off and land on it throughout the day. Big, twin-rotored Chinooks carry large loads, slung underneath, to Tortola and neighboring islands. Landing craft shuttle back and forth to the mother-ship multiple times daily. Again, thank you, UK. What on earth would we do here without your help?
The airport is still closed to commercial traffic, with only aid flights coming in and evacuations going out. Traffic is tightly slotted and, up to today, it seemed like some kind of aircraft was either taking off or landing every few minutes throughout the day.
As of now, only aid workers are being let in. I’m sure things will change soon, but even property owners are prohibited from entering the territory until we get past the emergency stage. And, make no mistake, despite massive progress, the BVI is still in a desperate state. Everything’s relative.
Mosquitoes continue to be an enormous problem. As I type this, I am being swarmed by them. Despite being slathered in Deep Woods Off and flailing about with my electronic swatter, they are aggressive and persistent little buggers. I just killed a pair of mating mosquitoes on my thigh with a single swat. That was very satisfying for me. And if you’re a mosquito, it’s probably the way you’d want to go.
I’ve added some Clorox to my cistern to kill the larvae and managed to stir things around a bit. Yesterday, I borrowed a Black Flag mosquito fogger. Before bedtime, except for my bedroom, I fired it up and fogged the entire house before closing the doors behind me. This morning? I don’t notice much of a difference. The mosquitoes are still here in mass, but now they’re vengeful.
Yesterday, I drove to an aid point, in search of mosquito dunks and water purification tablets. I saw crews onshore from the HMS Ocean, carrying handsaws, sledgehammers and chainsaws. They were moving from house to house, helping local people board their roofs and make other emergency repairs. Centers have been set up at multiple places on the island for people to request help from these teams. It’s great to see. Information is not very good yet about what’s available where, so the help center I went to didn’t have the water purification tabs and mosquito dunks I needed. I was told I will have to go to a different place on Monday to get those things.
I had not driven to town for almost two days before venturing out and I was shocked at the progress. Debris is being gathered and consolidated, then being picked up by excavators and trucked away. It’s very sad to see the widespread devastation, but at least things are looking more orderly along the roads.
The boats are another matter. They’re still piled everywhere in massive jumbles. During Irma, I witnessed what looked to be 40’ waves hammering the shore behind my house. The storm surge was reported to be in the 10-11’ range and even boats that were secured in “safe” locations were wrecked. Hundreds of large catamarans are piled on top of one other. Many are in places that can’t be reached by cranes from the land or from barges. Some weigh tens of thousands of pounds and they’re too heavy for even the Chinook helicopters to lift away. I have no idea how a number of them will be removed. Once they’re drained of diesel and their batteries are taken out, I imagine most will be sunk somewhere. It would be interesting to create new artificial reefs from a collection of these wrecked boats. Boat surveyors and divers have been assessing the damage, but very little has been done since Irma struck to start moving or repairing them.
The government has reported that power will be restored in four months; water in 45 days. Portable generators and a supply of larger diesel generators should start arriving in stores this coming week. Fortunately, there is very little price gouging and most merchants are selling food and essential supplies at regular prices or even discounts, to help.
I have commented several times in my posts about the importance of the government reducing the “friction” to speed the recovery. I’m pleased to report that the government will not be charging duty on essential equipment and supplies for the next three months. Government has also relaxed labor and immigration policies to expedite the processing of skilled workers that will be needed to support businesses in the rebuilding process.
If you’ve been following my writings for the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen several people comment that this should be made into a movie. Videos and still pictures probably give you an idea of the widespread devastation. What you don’t hear are the personal stories, told in the voices of those affected.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of personal stories of gritty survival against all odds. Some people were trapped in small spaces with waters rising and they nearly drowned. Others were huddled in places they considered safe, only to watch the structures around them disintegrate, bit by bit, with the roofs lifting off or the walls collapsing. Many people I have spoken to have told me tales of having only seconds to make life or death decisions. Before suffering through a total building collapse or being dragged out by the wind or water, they moved to a different place they hoped wouldn’t be destroyed, as well. And they had to make these moves while winds were blowing debris at a sustained 185mph, gusting to well over 200mph.
One person I spoke to had only seconds to move herself and her two dogs to a small concrete cubbyhole. Another man saw his daughter being dragged out of the side of his house that had given way. He managed to throw a piece of plywood on her and fall on top. She was injured but his action prevented her from being swept away and protected her body from falling roof sections.
People recount stories that range from losing their doors and windows to losing their roofs to losing all their worldly possessions. Each time I hear one of these stories, though, it ends the same way. After they’re finished, they all say, “But I have life.”
When I awoke this morning, the HMS Ocean was nowhere to be seen. I’m praying it’s just been moved to another BVI location and didn’t leave the territory. That would be bad.
Chuck forwarded this post from his neighbour, Olivia Newling Ward
I’ve been getting a few messages asking for updates so here we go.
It will be 3 weeks since Irma and 1 week since Maria on Wednesday. I’ve had bad days and I’ve had good days, but mostly days where I try keep myself busy to avoid thinking about the reality of the situation. The island is still without power but slowly running water is being restored. I’m lucky enough to be staying with people who have a generator which allows me a few hours of electricity in the morning and night. It still weighs on me that this is a temporary solution and the clock is ticking for me to make some tough decisions about my immediate future. Everyday the idea of moving off island for a bit is being sold to me by people around me. It becomes more and more appealing when you make the drive into town from Beef Island and realize you aren’t going to wake up from the nightmare for at least a few more months. Somewhat demoralizing but you make it work because in the end, you have life and that’s a blessing.
To be fair, there has been incredible progress throughout the islands and people are working extremely hard. I have so much love and respect for everyone who goes out there everyday to make a difference and do some good. Restaurant owners have started cooking free meals for children throughout the community, educational programs are being put in place, volunteers are everywhere, even the marines are in people’s homes helping them rebuild. (Also huge shout-out to the armed forces. You are all incredible and I appreciate everything you do. I never truly understood the value of the armed forces but seeing these men and women out there helping clear debris, restoring law and order to ensure everyone’s safety, providing aid and supplies, all with smiles on their faces. It’s amazing and it has made me appreciate being part of a family that has so many members who have served from my grandparents, my dad, uncles and aunts to many of my cousins.️ Even managed to salvage my dad’s naval medals from the rubble!)
Speaking of family – one of my cousins has been incredibly thoughtful and put together a crowdfunding page to help my family rebuild our lives. I’m not one for personal plugs but if you’re interested in donating or sharing, my family and I are more than appreciative. Thanks so much!(https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bvi)
Going through an event like this puts everything into perspective. Every story of survival during Irma in the BVI is different. My story was kind of intense but the gist of it is I rode out the worst of the storm in a small cupboard of a laundry room with two dogs while the roof blew off sections of the house. Chunks of concrete were falling from the ceiling inside the room, hence the need to squeeze into this cupboard. At the end of the day the dogs and I emerged unharmed, albeit a bit shaken up. I was then discovered by the neighbor (who is becoming somewhat famous on Facebook with his daily accounts post-Irma entitled the “Oatmeal Diaries.” He’s awesome, check him out if you haven’t. Chuck Krallman)
3 weeks on and I’ve been back into work a few times and have tried to resume some sort of normal life but the destruction is a lot to take in daily. Either way, staying positive and active is the only way to ensure that you come out of this situation stronger, and as a better person. For me at least. Still debating about this moving off island thing, but until then just going to try to keep doing some good around here.
So much love to you all and thanks for your daily messages. It keeps me going. ️
Progress is happening daily here in the BVI, but the challenges are daunting due to the sheer scale of the devastation. People are cleaning up their properties and crews are busy, replacing power poles and stringing wire. Electricity has been restored to just a few places so far. The government estimates all power will be restored within four months. Once power is back, it will be a game changer, even for those lucky enough to have functioning generators. When we get to that point, rebuilding efforts can happen in earnest.
There are no commercial flights yet, though military and aid flights continue daily. Our air travel situation has been complicated by extensive damage to the airports on our neighboring islands. Even private jet flights to the mainland are yet not allowed because the tower that controls private aviation traffic within 200 miles of San Juan has been destroyed.
Our local news is reporting that our prison inmates are being transferred to the prison in St. Lucia because our prison was heavily damaged and needs to be rebuilt. Our Governor handled this whole jailbreak situation very well. The UK military was able to round up nearly all the 150 escapees within a matter of a few days. I had originally heard there were 130 prisoners, but now the number is being reported as 150. I understand six low-risk prisoners are still at large, but I think we can essentially now check this problem off our list.
In other news, our government has announced that it will be creating a special business development fund for local businesses. It’s being reported that businesses will be able to apply for loans within the next two weeks. Most of our banks have already announced grace periods for personal and other loan repayments. A lot of aid is now here and it’s being distributed to those in greatest need first, like the sick and elderly. I understand there’s no requirement anymore for clothing items.
As for me, I’ve been able to hire some help to clear my property of debris and begin cleanup inside. Since every house in the BVI has been damaged, most severely, good contractors are in huge demand. Several thousand people will be trying to get the services of a handful of qualified builders at the same time. The timing of reconstruction at my house will mostly depend on when power is restored and when I can get materials shipped from the mainland. If anyone tries to take advantage, they need to know that, like Santa, I’m keeping a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.
Although a few plants are budding and some ground cover is turning green, the larger trees are pretty much gone. Nearly all coconut and foxtail palms were either uprooted or broken in half. Mature shade trees have been all but wiped out, either stripped of branches down to their lower trunks, or snapped off entirely. Twenty days after Irma, the hillsides are still brown and look barren of life. When one drives around the island, one sees homes and even streets that have never been exposed. There will be no privacy in the BVI for a while…
With their food sources mostly gone, birds, insects, and other assorted critters have become incredibly aggressive. Any door left open for breeze is an invitation to birds to fly in and pick through fruit and packages of food left on counters. Besides the omnipresent mosquitoes, I’ve seen some of the largest land crabs and spiders EVER. And I mustn’t forget to mention the rats. Food not packaged in tins or glass containers are easy targets for them. Even though I’ve been careful, I wasn’t spared from getting rats in my kitchen and storage room. They tend to sample a few bites from every container they can chew their way into. A veritable smorgasbord for our rodent friends.
I hate to segue from rats to restaurants, but more restaurants have been opening, with limited menus and hours. Despite sustaining a lot of damage, my favorite restaurant on the island, Brandywine, opened for Sunday lunch. The place was packed. Kudos to Chef Regis for making life almost civilized for an afternoon. It was a surreal experience, sipping wine and eating steak with peppercorn sauce, while Chinook military helicopters passed overhead, dangling their payloads.
Irma was an equal opportunity storm, affecting everyone, rich and the poor alike. One managing partner of law firm here lost everything when his house essentially exploded. Somehow, his prized 1961 Margaux was spared. It was a gift from a client and he had been saving it for decades. But, as he was carrying his few remaining possessions to new, temporary housing, the plastic bag holding the bottle broke. He licked what he could from the plastic bag, almost hoping it had gone bad. He said it was delicious.
All of us here look like contestants that failed to go the distance on an episode of “Naked and Afraid.” We’re sunburned, covered with heat rash, bug bites and scrapes, and we’ve all lost weight. Daily life is a struggle for everyone, young and old; rich and poor.
Now that the initial terror of the storm has passed and we are cleaning up, most of us have fallen into routines. To give you a sense of what daily life is like now on Tortola, I thought I’d describe a typical “Day in the Life of Chuck”
Mornings come early in the Krallman household. I always wake up before the sun rises at 6:00am because of the rooster that has made its home beneath my window. Sometimes, during the night, I get awakened by a muscle cramp caused by dehydration. It’s hard to drink enough water through the day and the nights are sweltering hot. There’s no breeze on my side of the mountain this time of year, no fan or A/C, and my shutters are still on. Like me, I imagine pretty much everyone sleeps in a pool of sweat. Even those lucky enough to have generators tend to turn them off at night to conserve fuel. So, this morning, when the leg cramp woke me up, I guzzled down the bottle of water beside my bed, walked it off as best I could, then tried in vain to go back to sleep
At sunrise, I finally got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. I applied a thick topcoat of Deep Woods Off, then filled my kettle with “clean-ish” water. I snapped the trigger of my Bernz-O-Matic plumber’s torch to instantly light my stove. Almost everyone here has gas ovens, so even without electricity, we can all cook. The problem, of course, is that we don’t have power, so there’s no refrigeration. Generally, we’re eating only non-perishable foods.
Once again, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Quaker Oats brand oatmeal for breakfast, manufactured by the Quaker Oats Company in Chicago, Illinois, along with a cup of instant coffee.
After breakfast, I usually dip a few buckets into my cistern to replenish water supplies needed throughout the house for daily cleaning and toilet flushing.
By around 7:30am, I wrap my laptop and notepad in a garbage bag in case of rain, then into a carrier bag, for the sweaty walk up the hill to the house that provides me rationed Internet. They run their generator a few hours twice each day to conserve their diesel, in the mornings and early evenings. I catch up on Facebook, emails and business for an hour or two, then pack my things and return to my house.
Sometimes, the whole day can be spent picking up debris and cleaning. Furnishings and fixtures that appeared undamaged immediately after the storm are now going bad because everything got bathed in salt. Any item made of metal is now rusting or pitting badly.
Today, I needed to travel to town to resupply and go in search of critically needed repair items. Most stores (that have opened) have restricted hours, long lines, and accept cash only. And the drive to town, which normally takes only 20 minutes, can easily take two hours each way. I’ll usually have to search several stores to get everything I need on my list, with long waits everywhere. Between the traffic congestion and the lines in stores, a simple shopping trip can blow most of a day.
As an aside, most of the cars here are heavily damaged, with some missing their windshields. Many times, I’ll see the occupants wearing scuba masks, which looks almost cartoonish. But, I digress. Back on topic…
By 5:00-6:00pm, I’ll grab my laptop and notepad and head up the hill to the neighbor house again. This time, I’ll also pack my flashlight, a towel, my toiletries and a fresh shirt in my bag. Perhaps a nice bottle of wine from my stock, too. Anyone who’s visited my house knows I have enough wine and spirits to last until the Armageddon, so I’m covered there.
While the generator is running during the early evening slot, several of us usually meet at that house. We take turns getting showers and we cook a communal dinner. Most often, our menu consists of a pasta dish with a prepared sauce and a nice bottle of wine. We talk about what we all did and saw that day. It’s simple, but pleasant.
After we say our goodbye’s, I walk back to my house. At 8:00pm, the curfew is in force. It’s dark outside. It’s hot and there’s no breeze. With my flashlight and my electric mosquito zapper, I try to rid my bedroom of mosquitoes as best I can.
And that, my friends, is a typical day in the life of Chuck right now.
There are now bugs in my oatmeal. I remained calm through Irma and Maria, but this could put me over the edge.
First, the good news. The mosquitoes seem to be subsiding somewhat. They’re not gone, but they are fewer in number and less aggressive. Less aggressive would not describe the Thrasher birds, which are obnoxious under the best of circumstances. One landed on my table this morning and attempted to eat my oatmeal. While I was eating it! I’m, of course, referring to Quaker brand oatmeal, manufactured by The Quaker Oats Company of Chicago, Illinois. Zip Code 60606.
One of my Facebook friends suggested I add a Bay leaf to my carton of oatmeal to repel the bugs. Apparently, that solution also works with flour and cornmeal. Who knew? So, I believe I have a new product suggestion for Quaker. I think they should introduce a special “Survival” variant, with a Bay leaf already added to the container. Quaker Oats: available in Instant, Old Fashioned and Survival varieties. You heard it here first.
The BVI is settling-in to what will be a long, arduous road to recovery. I understand power will be switched on in one section of town today. The Electricity Corporation crews are making steady progress in getting the main transmission lines up, though the vast majority of the island is still without power.
Let me be clear – we are still in an emergency situation, but our needs are shifting. Immediately after Irma, we were desperate for essentials like water and food. Some people had only the clothing they were wearing. With prisoners on the loose, we were afraid for our safety and urgently needed the military for protection and to restore order. Thankfully, that time has passed. We are safe, aid has arrived and, though there are long lines, there’s plenty of food in our stores and gas at our gas stations.
The island, though, is a monumental mess with debris everywhere and boats in massive piles, many de-masted and upside down. Tortola still looks like a war zone, more than three weeks after Irma struck.
Most people are cleaning up mountains of debris and making temporary repairs. Even the most basic and temporary repair efforts will undoubtedly go on for months and months. It’s going to be a tough slog to get things cleaned up and back to where they were, pre-storm. Frankly, I expect a few more people will “bugger off” once they get a better handle on how difficult it will be to rebuild their lives and businesses and evaluate their options.
Having said that, a few have started shifting to long-term rebuilding efforts. Several tourist-related businesses and charter fleets will be up and running shortly. For others, this coming season will be lost. Some charter boats that had a loyal following have been destroyed and it will be hard for them to recover. It may take a couple of seasons.
While the BVI is having its troubles, other Caribbean destinations are seizing this opportunity to snatch business this season and long-term share of market, with negative campaigns. Other tourist destinations that were not as affected are stepping up their marketing efforts. Cruise ships are rerouting.
I understand some Financial Services companies in at least one other jurisdiction (I won’t name names) are claiming the BVI is dead and encouraging companies to relocate there. Of course, the BVI isn’t dead and our Financial Services sector is strong. It was one of the first things up and running after the storm.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind the BVI will completely recover from this. All the elements that made us a thriving center for tourism and financial services are still there. In fact, if the Government uses Irma as a “reset” button and removes some “friction” from the system to make it easier for businesses to operate here, we could emerge even stronger and more vibrant than before.
But, for the BVI to recover, the hard reality is that we need cash. Cash must flow into the territory from the outside in large sums in the form of insurance proceeds, direct investment, charities and donations, company formations, and tourist dollars. To all those who want to help, my message is simple. Travel to the BVI, Invest in the BVI, and Buy in the BVI.
I am absolutely swamped with work now and need to concentrate on cleanup, insurance issues, ordering needed materials, dealing with contractors, and earning a living. I know lots of people are following me, but please be understanding. For many personal reasons, I need to suspend my regular Facebook entries for a while. I may pop-on every now and then, post some pics from the storm, or make an entry if there’s something newsworthy, but things are now falling into a routine.
I apologize if I haven’t responded to some questions, private messages, or Friend requests, but I’ve been inundated. Cell service is still not available at my house and basic communications continue to be a challenge. Your prayers and kind words of encouragement have been overwhelming during these trying times and have meant a lot to me. Thank you.
All things considered, I’ve been very lucky. I fared better than most and I have life.
…And my giant Unicorn pool float. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
OK, OK. Yesterday, I said I was going to cease posting for a while. I said I would pop-on only if I had something interesting to relate. Well, I do have some new comments and musings…
I live on the East End of Tortola and my observations so far have been limited mostly to what I have seen on my end of the island. Yesterday, I spoke to several people who live or have businesses on West End and in Road Town. They told me things I hadn’t heard or been able to see myself.
A prominent businessman who operates several locations around the BVI told me he was hit hard by looters before the military arrived. At one of his locations, the looters used a chainsaw to cut through the shutters protecting his store and removed all his merchandise, including some heavy sweaters, which would be of no use in the BVI. Similar things happened at his other stores and warehouse. One of the largest liquor distributors was completely emptied of all its stock. Most of the stories I heard were like this. The looting was not done by people desperate for food or essentials for their families. These crimes were blatant and happened in broad daylight. I understand there’s video, capturing several of the incidents.
After Maria hit, I reported the military had captured several looters, caught in the act. Sadly, I learned that the first seven were sentenced to community service. Community service? Really? Would you want these people working on your home or in your yard? If anyone in Government reads these posts, and any of the perpetrators are from other islands, I hope you can find a way to deport them. We don’t need these people in the BVI as we rebuild our future.
I also met someone from a construction company in the States who said he was considering creating temporary housing. This got me thinking that one of our biggest problems will be housing the people who need to come down to rebuild. We’ll need hundreds, if not thousands, of workers with the right skills and there’s no housing stock available.
While there will be a huge need for construction workers and skilled tradesmen, there will be little need for most administrative workers for a while. There’s going to be a massive shift in the make-up of our workforce, with some people facing the prospect of long-term unemployment and others in enormous demand. Obviously, this is going to create a massive social and security challenge.
The tourism industry is based around the beauty of the BVI and our natural wonders. It is almost guaranteed to completely recover, given time. In my view, our Financial Services industry is more fragile. Several law firms relocated their lawyers to their offices in other jurisdictions after the storm. It would not be shocking for these temporary relocations to become permanent, which would have a multiplier effect on the BVI economy, since that would result in the loss of support staff, as well as the lawyers. If some of the BVI Financial Services companies permanently move their staff to other jurisdictions, it would be a double-whammy. Again, if anyone in Government is reading this, now is the time to take all steps necessary to ensure all these firms return to the BVI.
I had previously reported the sustained winds of Irma, the atmospheric equivalent of a giant Salad Shooter, were 185mph, with higher gusts. At my house, I noted that winds were at their highest level for at least an hour before we entered the eye. I spoke to a military guy yesterday and, based on what he told me, my numbers may be a wee-bit low. He said the military measured the winds at a sustained 200mph+, with gusts to 285mph and tornadoes spinning off from there. You heard me right, I said more than TWO HUNDRED miles per hour. That’s even too windy for the kite surfers.
If my rudimentary physics calculations are correct, that means the force exerted on a shutter of 4’X8’ plywood, covering a large window or a set of doors, would receive over 10,000 pounds of force. It’s amazing that any shutter or door stayed on at all.
There’s a widely circulated photo of a 60’ catamaran sitting on top of a building, more than 500 feet from where it was secured. The boat probably weighs more than 50,000 pounds. It wasn’t put there by the storm surge. It was lifted by the wind, all 50,000 pounds of it, and landed on top of the building. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post that rats have become a problem. Yesterday, I went into my home office and there was a large rat, sitting right in my leather office chair. I’ll let you make up your own joke on this one.
So many have commented that they will continue to visit and support the BVI it gives me great hope for the future. I don’t know the vast majority of people who have offered me their support and encouragement, but please Private Message me if you come down. I’d love to meet you in person. Given the number who’ve said they want to buy me a drink, I figure I’m set for beer until about the year 2024.
It’s being reported that commercial flights could start coming and going from our Beef Island airport as soon as tomorrow, October 2nd. This will be a huge step forward when it happens, but it’s not a done deal yet. The resumption of commercial flights must be approved by the civil aviation regulatory authority for the BVI and other British Overseas Territories. Security screening will be in place and the public is being warned to expect very long lines. Remember, everyone, no machetes in your carry-on’s.
A lot of people have Private Messaged me about wanting to come down to help. Many feel powerless in the States and want to support spouses or loved ones. To everyone who messages me on this subject, I say the same thing. It’s just too soon. Wait for things to normalize a bit. The situation on the ground is gradually getting better and we might be talking only about a week or two, but not now. Even if commercial flights are restored tomorrow as planned, only a small fraction of the BVI has power and/or water. Communications are spotty, at best. Although I can get a cell signal if I walk over the hill behind my house, there’s still no digital data at my place so I can’t receive emails or instant messages. There’s very little habitable housing and, with no A/C or fans, and lots of very aggressive bugs and assorted vermin, conditions are, well, bad. Until things are a little further along, come only if you have a very, VERY good reason to do so.
I keep hearing talk that the military will be leaving the BVI. There’s enough smoke to this story that there could be fire, but I’ve heard nothing definitive yet. Although our escaped prisoners have been rounded up and are now in a St. Lucia jail, there’s certainly still a need for them and I hope they stay for a while.
Despite the government asking people to not burn brush, debris, or garbage, there are daily fires being started everywhere. And all sorts of stuff is getting burned, not just tree limbs. When I drive through East End, I smell burning rubber and God knows what else. The acrid smoke blows over populated areas and settles there, like 70’s era smog over LA. Health-wise, it can’t be good.
There’s a storied ruin around the corner from my house, probably dating back to the 1600’s, that allegedly carries with it the curse of murdered pirates. I can report the ruin is now even more ruined. Maybe there was something to that curse…
If you’ve just started reading my posts, and you have some time on your hands and are interested, it’s probably worthwhile going back to September 6th and tracing through my Timeline. To those of you who’ve been following me from the beginning, FYI, I’ve still heard nothing from Oprah regarding the car nor have I gotten a lifetime supply of delicious Quaker brand oatmeal from The Quaker Oats Company of Chicago, Illinois, Zip Code 60606.
Again, please understand that I’m absolutely inundated with personal tasks right now and will be for the coming weeks. It’s very difficult for me to respond to PM’s and I regret that I’ve not been able to answer everyone’s questions. Right now, I need to get my insurance claim filed as soon as possible and the amount of work that must go into that is daunting. I appreciate your support and encouragement more than you can imagine, but my posting will need to be irregular and less frequent. I’ll post only if there’s something I think is noteworthy.
It’s a scary thought if storms like Irma become the “new normal” because of rising ocean temperatures. On a positive note, global warming will mean that my new dog and cat-shaving business should really take off and, soon, I’ll be able to cook my lobster simply by lowering it into the toilet.
Check back for updates
As you can tell, the situation is currently still fragile, and there are serious issues to overcome.
Looking to the future, there is no doubt the BVI will bounce back. It has the best charter boat sailing in the world, magical beaches, clear blue water and a strong, friendly and vibrant community desperate to welcome tourists again.
To show real support, come and visit BVI.2 – there should be lots to see and do by March 2018, 6 months after Irma. The vegetation will be green again, just like your dollars which need spending here!
Follow Facebook group BVI.2 for updates on business re-openings:
Bars / Restaurants / Hotels / Charter Fleets / Watersports / Transport / Ecology