My colleagues and the many elementary students I taught on Wednesday, September 6th probably didn’t realize the inner turmoil I was experiencing that day.

While to them I was moving through my daily motions as usual- I was truthfully spending my day in agony.

A lover and repeat visitor to both the United States and British Virgin Islands, I had been spending my last week unhealthily obsessing over the approaching hurricane set to strike these isolated islands on that fateful day.

With friends who live on the island of St. John (whom were currently in town on vacation and whom we were scheduled to have dinner with that evening), my heart was heavy with worry and fear for their home, their pets still on island, and of course and moreover, for all their friends and community still on island.

I spent every spare moment I had that day checking various Caribbean webcams I had found, checking for updates from every island business and group facebook page I had added in the last week, and watching facebook live feeds from those on island as the hurricane approached.

The updates and videos painted a picture of worsening conditions, but nothing could have prepared me for what began to come through after a somewhat “radio silent” time period between the hours of 1pm and 7pm.

When the eye wall of Irma descended upon the islands filtering through my mind’s eye.

Fast forward nearly two weeks, and the pictures of the islands I have come to love are truthfully still difficult to stomach.

Even more difficult and harrowing though, are the stories now coming to light.

Now that tourists and residents have had time to take boats to nearby Puerto Rico and St. Croix- where they have found refuge, flights to the mainland, and for many, the first chance at communication, their stories are surfacing.

Making the rounds, being shared, and blowing me away by the minute.

Stories like that of Lucy Keatts, a mother of two small children who weathered the storm in what many would have considered a hurricane-safe home on St. Thomas.

When hurricane-safe didn’t account for what Irma was bringing that day.

Lucy’s raw, emotional, and frightening account of those “radio silent” six hours will leave you speechless.

Below, you can read of her experience.

One in which we all hope to never find ourselves in, one in which we hope and pray to never occur again, and one which brings perspective, and somehow, hope.

We thank you for your account of the events of Wednesday, September 6th, Lucy, and keep you, your family, and your community of island residents in our constant thoughts and prayers.

Photos used with permission via Lucy Keatts

“One week since Cat 5+ Hurricane Irma hit our beautiful island of St Thomas. We watched, nauseated, as we felt the storm build up through that Wednesday morning but it still felt like the eye wall came upon us so suddenly. And so immensely. And so terrifyingly. Irmas’ eye wall was many things to me.

Irmas’ eye wall was a ferocious roar I could never have imagined possible

Irmas’ eye wall was watching the French doors on the side of our “safe” basement start to shake and buckle as we rushed the kids into the small bathroom and barricaded the door. 1.15pm

Irmas’ eye wall was listening to that lashing fury and feeling a fear for our children we never wanted to experience again. 1.45pm. We didn’t realize way worse was still to come.

Irma’s eye wall was hearing our dogs’ whine turn into a high pitched panicked almost scream as they too were filled with fear, tucked in their crates where we had barricaded them in as best we could

Irma’s eye wall was listening to the propane tanks being slammed against the ‘sheltered’ wall behind our bathroom bunker and crashing sounds upstairs (we didn’t know it was the our upstairs disappearing)

Irma’s eye wall was watching the sweet innocence of my 17mnth old doing the motions to incywincy spider on a tablet, as she couldn’t comprehend the beast right outside. 1.55pm

Irma’s eye wall was a sudden, powerful whoosh and the feeling that the inside of mh ears were being sucked out. That was the French doors being ripped off. 2pm

Irma’s eye wall was now in our shelter and she wanted everything in it

Irma’s eye wall was throwing my babies in the bathtub and laying with my arms and legs wrapped around them for 5 hours

Irma’s eye wall was peeking out to see my husband bracing, desperately trying to hold in the bathroom door and wall. First he watched the metal windows buckling and then snatched away and then the inside walls being peeled away and the metal frames of the walls being twisted and folded by this fury

Irma’s eye-wall was lying in the bath as wind pulled at the camping mat I clung to to cover my babies from endless debris flying around. The camping mat had been thrown at me as the storm demolished the closet behind my head. And it protected us

Irma’s eye wall was repeating “it’ll be over soon” over and over for two and a half hours to calm my kids but also, I realize, myself and at moments hearing the higher pitched terror in my voice as it felt like it would never be over. How was it not over? How could we possibly cling on much longer? I could feel the bathtub shaking

Irma’s eye wall was cold rain water starting to fill the bathtub. I couldn’t sit up or my children would be ripped from my arms, so I desperately tried to keep my baby’s head above the rising water. I shivered uncontrollably until my littles couldn’t help but pee themselves. It broke my heart as it warmed that water.

Irma’s eye wall was utter panic when the remaining wall started to fall in on top of us, but return to a stoic, anxious calm after husband’s reassurance it was the closet and not the cistern wall that was collapsing

“It’ll be over soon” “It’ll be over soon” “It has to be over soon”…..

Irma’s eye wall was finally moving on. around 5pm. But she was tricky, whirling back with a sudden vicious roar we could hear building and running at us and slamming debris around outside and still desperately trying to rip out the half wall that remained above our bathtub. Was she coming back around again? There’s no way we would make it

Irma’s eye wall was unbelievably huge relief as we could talk to each other again and believe that she really was dying down and we were going to survive. Finally. 7.30pm. The longest and most terror filled 5hours of my life that I would wish on no one

Irma’s eye wall was being pulled out of the rubble by incredible neighbors who welcomed us into their home and have become like family in just a few days

Irma’s eye wall was being so stunned and grateful to all be alive that when you look up after climbing out of the rubble you don’t care that the top floor of your house is gone. Roof, walls, everything. Your home- gone. But you are alive together

Irma’s eye wall was an incredible community coming together to help each other survive, move on and rebuild

We are good. We are lucky to have had friends take us off island until we find a new home and things settle down. But STT is home. We are conflicted and filled with guilt for leaving but it’s the right thing to do for our children right now.

Irma’s eye wall was absolutely devastating to my beautiful home St Thomas, bringing huge turmoil and hardship for so many. It will be many months before power is restored to most of the island. Forget about the piddly 10days people are worried about in Florida -and I mean no disrespect to those also devastated there-it’s awful anywhere-but US territories are often forgotten and recovery on an island territory is painfully slow. Water, fuel, basic food supplies are all out or running low.

STT needs help and support beyond what it’s very special people can give each other. 

Please consider donating to the VI Community Foundation or the St Thomas Family Resource Center -great organizations who will ensure funds go directly to help the people of this wonderful island.” 

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Ashley Kleisinger

Bio- Ashley Kleisinger is a mommy, elementary school teacher, and blogger from Northern Kentucky. When not lesson planning in the shower, chasing after her 5- and 8-year-old, or celebrity stalking on eight different forms of social media, you can find her penning her rants, ramblings, and exaggerations of the truth on her Facebook page Back Stories First.

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