13 hrs ·
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.