On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma changed the lives of the people in the Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean. The powerful category 5 hurricane slammed into the defenseless islands with historic power and fury, packing winds of over 180 miles per hours and gust of over 200 miles per hour. The scariest part of Irma was the tornadoes she brought with her. The twisting winds leveled a territory that was built to withstand hurricanes and dismantled homes, leaving many homeless and traumatized, including my sister who spent most of the night hiding in the rest room because the ferocious winds knocked out all of her windows and ripped the doors off their hinges. I could relate to her fears and pain because it reminded me well of the horrifying experience of Hurricane Marilyn on Sept 16, 1995, while I attended the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas. Marilyn totally destroyed St. Thomas, leaving 95% of the homes damaged and a trail of destruction, which took years to reconstruct.
It was difficult for me to sleep during Hurricane Irma because the islands never experienced a hurricane so intense. As I was conversing with my sister during the worst part of the storm, I could hear the fear and anxiety in her voice as she described the sound of the winds, and as she watched debris batter and shatter her vehicle. All she could do was watch the water saturate her personal items, but I will always remember her saying that she doesn’t really care about her possessions, but she is hoping that God spares her life.
While we are still all in total belief with the power of Irma, there is still a great debate about what really caused such a raging storm to devastate such a beautiful place. Many are quick to blame climate change and the fact that the warm waters in the Atlantic create a perfect platter in which to serve up a dangerous and catastrophic hurricane. Whether it’s climate change or just natural, we are now faced with the daunting challenging of repairing and reconstructing and uniting as one body, with one cause, and that is for all of us to enjoy success and happiness.
Disasters often create opportunities for us to unite. As one people, we must now assess the damages and figure out how we could all help each other get back on our feet. Hurricane Irma has taught us a lot about humility and that the value of life far outweighs the value material possessions. It has also awoken us to the reality of working with each other and not against each other. We can now prioritize things in order of importance and rebuild with a sense of purpose. We will learn that some of the things we think we needed won’t be necessary this time around and that some things that are now necessary will be added to our lifestyle. We will be able to enjoy the simplicity of life and take joy in a situation that somehow seemed like a struggle. We will learn to make sacrifices for others, to look out more for our people and learn about each more as we build and join hands together. Unity gives us each an opportunity to learn something about each other that we never knew even existed. It breaks the chain of silence that has kept us segregated. Once we talk to each other and learn to appreciate each other’s talents, and abilities we will learn how to forgive, respect and trust each other again.
Once she slammed into our coast in Miami, Florida, she had lost some of its fury, but still delivered a protein-packed punch that rattled every single county of our state. I remembered being in contact with many of my families, friends, and parents at our school up until 5 am when Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, 2017. The tornadoes and howling winds sent us all into a panic. We communicated and held each other’s hands although we weren’t together physically, but somehow our bond and prayers managed to steer this turbulent storm away from us, causing little damage and once again, preserving lives.
Now we are picking up the pieces and claiming small victories one day at a time. It starts with determination, long-suffering, persistence, patience, and a genuine care for mankind. As we join forces, we know that we will keep a smile and work diligently until we are back to a sense of normalcy and that our rebuilding of our personal possessions will also result in the rebuilding of our hearts, minds, and love and care for each other. This will give us an opportunity to put life in perspective and continue to make adjustments in doing what is necessary to save lives and form partnerships that no disaster will ever destroy. We need to rebuild the human mind and heart to a point where it’s resilient and to a point where it becomes saturated with care and love for one another, to a point where we will go all out to make sure our brothers and sisters are all living in peace and harmony and fairness is mandatory. We can rebuild a community to withstand the test of any disaster once we make a commitment to join hands and become one in mind, body, and soul.