Irma’s Aftermath

Hurricane Irma tore into St. John about 18 months ago. The island was in the wall of the eye of the storm for more than two hours. Survivors describe it as a truly harrowing experience.

Signs of the devastation wrought by the storm are still found all over the island — as is seen in the remains of the restaurant located next door to our lodging. The damage followed a distinct pattern. First the storm lifted the roofs off structures and blew out their windows, then it rained flying debris that knocked down walls, then the exposed innards of homes and buildings were exposed to drenching rain — which was compounded when another storm blew through the region about a week later and dumped still more rain.

But St. John has bounced back. Much of the damage has been fixed already, and repair work is underway elsewhere. In some cases, insurance snags have delayed the rebuilding efforts. Many of the residents who survived the storm and remained on the island will tell you it was a kind of rite of passage. Some people left, but those who stayed rolled up their sleeves, worked together to clear debris and help their neighbors, and jointly experienced the aftermath period when only generator power was available and you couldn’t buy a drink with ice. New and lasting friendships were formed, and you’ll hear people saying that the island is stronger than ever because of that.

We came to St. John for some sunshine and heat to break up the Midwestern winter, and we definitely got that — but we also got a lesson in the resilience of the human spirit.

Hilltopping

Over the weekend we set out on the Margaret Hill trail in a bid to scale the two tallest peaks in the western part of the island: Caneel Hill and Margaret Hill. Neither is particularly tall by the standards of, say, the Rockies or even the Appalachians. According to our excellent topographical map, available from the National Park Service for only $4.00, Caneel Hill is slightly less than 800 feet above sea level, and Margaret Hill is not quite 100 feet taller. But they certainly feel taller than that, as you scramble dead uphill from the trailhead on the northshore road, and they offer commanding views to the north and west.

To the north, pictured above, you see Whistling Cay to the left and, to the right and in the distance, you see the islands of the British Virgin Islands — or, to use the lingo of the locals, the BVI. Somewhere out there in the water the international boundary lurks, but the locals don’t seem to pay too much attention to it, especially if they are heading to the party beaches of Jost Van Dyke, which offers a kind of continuous spring break atmosphere.

From the lookout point rock atop Margaret Hill, show below, you get a bird’s eye view of the town of Cruz Bay and, off to the right, the island of St. Thomas, which is a part of the USVI. At night, the cruise ships, all lit up like floating Christmas trees steamy by St. John just to the left, south of the island, in a glittering single file parade. Who’d have thought there were so many cruise ships?

The path down Margaret Hill leads to the Caneel Bay resort, still closed in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which pulverized the island some 18 months ago. Watch your step, because the footing on the way down can be treacherous — but the chance to be a hilltopper is worth it.

Negative Positives

Midwest America is viewed by many as pretty boring territory.  Flyover country.  Farmland.  Flat as a pancake, without soaring mountains, beautiful beaches, or other natural scenic wonders.

hurricane-irma-puerto-rico-01-rtr-jc-170906_4x3_992But boy!  Reading this morning about a killer storm like Hurricane Irma, which has left the Caribbean battered and Floridians panicked as it bears down on places like Naples and Tampa, from the quiet comfort of my kitchen here in Columbus, makes me reflect on what we don’t get here in the Midwest — like hurricanes.  Or tsunamis.  Or deadly earthquakes that stretch the Richter scale.  Or raging wildfires sweeping across dried-out hillsides, avalanches, and colossal mudslides.  Here in America’s heartland we get a bad thunderstorm now and then, a river might flood here and there, and tornadoes are always a risk, but when it comes to bad weather and natural disasters that’s about it.  We’re shielded from the worst by hundreds of miles of non-coastal buffer zone and natural topography.

It all depends on how you look at the risk-reward calculus, I suppose.  We might not get the stirring vistas — unless, like me, you think that well-tended rolling farms and barns have their own special appeal — but the angry weather and natural disasters that we don’t get here are definitely a positive when the killer storms come calling.

Our thoughts are with the folks down in Florida and the south, many of whom are transplanted Midwesterners, as they ride out the storm.  Here’s hoping that everyone was able to get out of harm’s way.