My name is Sara Smith and I have lived in the BVI for the past 10 years. Before the Hurricane, my life consisted of attending classes at the college, teaching and attending dance classes, rehearsing with numerous dance groups, choreographing for different gigs and of course the normal things such as spending time with family, friends and loved ones and the occasional beach. Not everyone lives my life in the BVI, but I can assure you that we are all busy and passionate people. Every year we have our hurricane season, and usually it brings us a few minor storms, nothing too serious, and if it’s serious it only comes once in a blue moon. So when we heard of Irma, none of us immediately panicked. Most of us just hoped that it would do what it normally does, and pass us leaving minimal damage, maybe a lot of rain and wind, not a direct hit. Days before the storm, as it intensified, we started taking things more seriously. We boarded up and prepared as much as possible. However, there is only so much you can do. As Irma’s winds approached, we felt the knots in our stomachs intensify. We knew the storm was suppose to be powerful, but none of us knew exactly how powerful; none of us knew that our comfortable, everyday lifestyle would be taken away from us.
Personally, Irma was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. Myself, 3 others and my dog crammed under my apartment stairs, which is about a space of 4 x 3 wide and ascending from the ground diagonally to a height of 3 feet (the height ascends with the stairs). This spot was suppose to be our “backup plan” but ended up being where we spent a total of 6 hot, claustrophobic, cramping hours of the storm. I specifically had to “beat” the cramps out of my friends muscles because there was no space to stretch them out. During the storm, our concrete apartment complex shook, winds howled as if they were angry ghosts, and many many strange noises occurred outside: car alarms, thumps, glass breaking, branches cracking, you name it. After all of this, there was sunshine; bright, beautiful and calming. This was the eye of the storm. This is what saved many people’s lives, as they quickly changed shelter or ran and yelled for help from neighbors. Unfortunately, the second half of the storm was the worst. This is when complete carnage occurred. This is when majority found themselves wondering if they were going die or not. This is when we all knew that the BVI would not be the same. Winds gusted at 200+mph taking my roof, along with many many others with it. Houses shaked, windows busted, and cars got rolled around like dice. Vegetation was stripped from the once green hillsides, and boats got tossed and turned in the ocean like a stew. As we waited under the stairs, soaked and sitting in water, we had no prediction of what we were about to see. We expected there to be dead bodies outside, because we knew we might survive history. Nothing was more relieved than when night approached and we all knew we were going to live. Irma was the strongest hurricane to EVER occur in the Atlantic and when the storm was finally over, we all simply were grateful to even be alive.
The next day, we went out to see just what she ended up doing. We walked over countless trees and electricity poles, and into the nearby marina filled with boast stacked like fallen dominos. It was only by the grace of God that there weren’t as many lives lost as there were. All communications were down, so this was the time everyone took to travel by cars, or what was left of them,to check on their friends and family. I desperately needed to check on my boyfriend who lives on the other side of the island, and on the way from West End to East End, I saw everything and more. I saw homes flattened, stores emptied, people sitting outside of their wrecked home with their belongings in garbage bags, cars in the most odd positions and angles, buildings completely wrecked, and many upturned boats on the coast, but I also saw something that many did not. I saw the chance to grow stronger than we were before. Now that we are past that time of sorrow and grief, I see the true soul of the BVI, which is pure LOVE. Those who lost homes, were taken in by their neighbors, those who needed help were being helped, those who didn’t have a car were being given a ride, those who needed food were fed, even if it meant giving the last of what someone else had left. Now I cannot speak for everyone, yes there are still people struggling and still a major need for aid and normalcy around here, but what we were right after Irma compared to now, only 3 weeks after, is a lot more than it may seem from the outside. Restaurants, grocery stores, businesses, banks, and some hotels are opening. Homes are getting patched, and people are doing what they need to do, and if they can’t do it alone then people are helping. We may have a long road to full recovery from this disaster, but that road could be much longer if it wasn’t for the heart and soul of the BVI. We are many different people of many different cultures, backgrounds and interests, but one thing we all have in common is that we are fighters. Yes, Irma took many of our homes, businesses, comforts and joys, but it could never take away our strength and soul here in the BVI. One love, #VISTRONG