ST. CROIX — On Social media Tuesday night and in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, you would be forgiven for becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Dozens of St. Croix residents, terrified after their homes had been compromised by Hurricane Maria’s winds and the torrential rainfall that accompanied the storm, shared their experiences live on Facebook, all while calling for help.
Some roofs became undone by the ferocious winds and were in the process of being violently ripped off their frames. For others, water poured through openings that had given into the force of Hurricane Maria (in some areas on St. Croix, particularly the island’s southwest portion, the winds came in at max strength: 175 miles per hour, with higher gusts.)
Families in compromised homes corralled themselves in closets, under tables — or anywhere the human instinct of survival directed them to. Some watched helplessly as the frail frame of their homes rocked back and forth at Maria’s command, fearing that at any moment the walls would cave in. In Harbor View Apartments, a housing community in Five Corners, glass shattered under Maria’s unrelenting pressure. In the same housing community, a portion of an apartment fell on its occupants’ vehicle. Harbor View appeared to be a similar scenario — though not as dire — to Tutu High Rise, a St. Thomas housing complex left in a ruinous state by Irma, where hurricane-force winds roared through the walls of multiple homes, leaving gaping holes.
For many, it seemed as if the storm would never end; Hurricane Maria gnawing winds and rain began assaulting the U.S. Virgin Islands from 2:00 p.m., its hurricane-force winds started at around 10:00 p.m., and the storm did not cease until 5:30 a.m. Thursday. With incessant force, it slammed St. Croix from east to west, destroying many homes in the process.
When daylight appeared, the wreckage Maria left behind was blunt. Homes once hidden by trees were suddenly visible as the hurricane mowed through the island, and any hope that lingered about electricity quickly being restored after the storm, was dashed: From east to west, almost every utility pole was either completely mangled or badly damaged. If it were not for the quick response of first responders (New York State Troopers, Dept. of Homeland Security Puerto Rico, and V.I. National Guard personnel were seen with chainsaws clearing roads early Wednesday), St. Croix’s thoroughfares would still be impassible with trees whose roots had snapped, unable to withstand Maria’s constant battering.
A solar energy field at the District court of the Virgin Islands in Golden Rock was laid to waste; Pepper Tree Terrace looked like a nuclear bomb had detonated there; KFC in Sunny Isle was defaced, so too was women’s clothing store Rainbow; at least 50 percent of homes in Williams Delight had lost roofs or were otherwise damaged; some homes in neighboring communities were flooded; at one location, a utility pole had fallen on a home, compromising its structure.
Maria, a category 5 hurricane, punished St. Croix approximately two weeks after Hurricane Irma — another category 5 storm — pummeled the St. Thomas-St. John District. St. Croix was spared by Irma and was being used as staging ground to help the sister islands recover. It was also set to benefit from a wave of cruise ships unable to dock at previously scheduled ports of call. In fact, on Sunday, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, with its 4,000 passengers, docked at the port in Frederiksted.
But Hurricane Maria had other plans, and St. Croix, whose residents were providing supplies and support to St. Thomas and St. John, suddenly found itself needing all the help it could get.
Now the entire U.S. Virgin Islands has been walloped by powerful storms in the span of two weeks. Moving forward, a lot remains unknown: Will the government, which was already in a financial crisis and, according to Governor Kenneth Mapp, was operating “paycheck to paycheck,” be able to sustain vital services and pay its employees? Will it be forced to pursue mass layoffs? With its main economic driver, tourism, badly damaged, where will adequate funding for operations come from?
The governor was assessing the damage caused by Maria today, and is expected to hold a press conference on Thursday. There, Mr. Mapp, who will be flown over St. Croix for an aerial view and better sense of the damage, is expected to address recovery efforts and curfew hours, among other important information relative to Hurricane Maria and Irma relief plans.
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