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Irma's Impact: One week on – 'I pray for the suffering to be eased'

ROADTOWN, TORTOLA, BVI – It’s been a week since I crawled out of my Irma-hiding place, and much has changed in me and all around me. For starters, last night/this morning was our first big, I mean huge, rainfall since “She” came through town. Normally, as a native Californian-in-perennial-drought-conditions, I love rain wherever I’m at. Here in the BVI, it’s a warm, luscious experience that comes through and wipes everything clean and keeps our lush tropical terrain green, then dries out quickly.

Not today. All I could think of was the already-flooded upstairs (and everyone else’s roof-less homes all over the island), and how anything that may have been drying out over the last week and salvageable is, again, being destroyed. We got upstairs and threw the only tarp we had over a part of the flooring, but it is impossible to keep up with the leaks, now popping up in new places, on the ceiling of the ground floor where we are all taking refuge. I wondered about everyone else going through similar exercises, trying to shore up against the incoming weather.

I celebrated my one-week Life-After-Irma anniversary by going on another big field trip and was stuck by many things. First, I read on FB that there was a battery and tire giveaway at the local car rental agency/mechanics, International Motors. Like so many of the news items of interest that pop up on our community board, this one came to me just a moment too late, because It's hard to keep up and our internet is just not "up to speed" yet. I didn’t know about it soon enough and all the batteries were gone.

Irma seems to have wreaked havoc not just on my, but on a lot of cars, that, if they are running, have wacky things going on...I cannot be sure my car will start on any particular day, since Irma. I have now invested in a set of jumper cables, which, amazingly, Rite Way had in stock!

What struck me most was my journey to the mechanic. I’ve been there many times, but because of how much destruction there was, I almost got lost trying to find the building amid the rubble. The road, through parts of town that were hit particularly hard, cut through a wasteland, and I had to keep an eye out for large landmarks, like the movie theater, just to make my way there – not to mention the various blockages that created a circuitous route.

Compared to last week’s field trip, this week, the island is teeming with activity, and much of it feels quite productive. The phone/data companies are offering free data and 5-min calls if you’re willing to go hang out at the store (and really, what else is there to do), so people are gathered at these spots all over town.

The businesses that weathered the storm are starting to reopen. Crandalls, Pusser’s, The French Deli, Mulligan’s, to name a few. It is actually possible to buy prepared food and drinks! What a gift for someone like me, who doesn’t have cooking gas or a microwave, and only intermittent power. I was so excited to buy a hot-cooked meal to take home.

The line at Rite Way has been greatly reduced and very sedate – could have something to do with the continued police presence, but I think we’re all just adjusting to the “new normal.” And, while it seems like some of the stock may be dwindling, RW’s putting on a good face, and I’m always able to complete my neighborhood’s shopping list on these trips, not the least of which included the aforementioned jumper cables…

In other good news, the ubiquitous construction machinery. I’ve never been so happy to creep along behind dump trucks and debris-sweepers (I’m sure there’s a more formal name for these) on the road, as I was today, watching them working hard everywhere I went, on their mission to gather up and dispose of the remains of Irma’s visit.

We will be ready for The Season, by God!

I am struck by the fact that, everywhere I go, everyone I talk to seems to have a story of the destruction of all or much of their homes and loss of their belongings. And still, these people come to work and engage with inquisitive customers and carry a smile on their face. It is pretty amazing, the fortitude of the people who have suffered (and haven’t we all!). Their stories are my stories and your stories. It is truly the tie that binds us altogether here. But I marvel anyway, that they keep moving with such a positive attitude.

The most delicious experience of my day was coming upon the Nanny Cay Oasis (photos thanks to our friends at NC). I call it that because, when you’ve lived without running water for a week, it really is like being stranded in a desert and finding that one little spot… I almost threw myself to the ground in genuflection of the sight!

The heroes of Nanny Cay, while working fast and furiously to get their own water system up, ran pipes out to the main road and have installed three faucets that literally just turn on and deliver clean running water to anyone who happens by! It is truly a miracle. This just doesn't happen here. Ever!

Having bathed for a week in teaspoons of probably-contaminated cistern water, this is nirvana! I so desperately wanted to throw myself under the faucets and wash the last week’s memories from my body. Instead, I filled every jug that we had in the neighborhood, guilt-free, wishing only that I’d brought my shampoo…

The extraordinary has become ordinary. I’m no longer shocked by what I see all around me. I have almost stopped reaching for the handles whenever I am at a sink or toilet. I anticipate and plan for the long lines to get anything done, knowing it’s just a part of how the day goes now. I marvel at the miracle of seeing a ferry boat running from Pier Park to St Thomas.

I do miss my friends and being able to meet up and hang out wherever we want. I miss being able to just go anywhere. But, I am safe and sheltered. I am one of the lucky ones.

There are still a lot of people out there struggling, who’ve lost everything, and may not know how to strategize getting their basic needs met, and are maybe even losing hope. I pray for their suffering to be eased. There is a lot of help on the way and there are a lot of people working really hard on your behalf. Have faith! #BVIStrong

[Christine Perakis is our Facebook friend and newest contributor to Sailing Illustrated. Her two Irma-related, first-hand reports on SI were widely viewed and shared on social media. Since her first story appeared here Christine has been interviewed by the UK's ITV, as well as the New York Times, ABC News radio and the Washington Post. –TFE]

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