Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Omar Plus Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Omar blew through here, so if I have anything else to say about it, I guess I’d better get on it before it’s ancient history.


A hurricane has a voice. As Omar came ashore, we heard a rumbling like a freight train. (We used to live about a quarter mile from a train track, so that’s not hyperbole. It sounded like a damn freight train.) And over the rumble was a howl that would occasionally jump a couple of octaves into a scream.

An hour before the storm hit the weather maps online still showed it heading pretty much straight at us on the southwest corner of St. Croix. Then in the last hour it shifted east a little and hit that end of the island hardest. We spent most of the evening out on the front porch (don’t worry, it’s a very well protected area, we had to step down into the car port to get the real effect of the wind.) It was blowing hard and raining like a son of a bitch, but wasn’t really that bad. Actually, it was kind of exhilarating.

The power went out at 8:25 p.m., just 35 minutes before the presidential debates started, so we missed that. We were inside at around 11 p.m. when we heard a snapping sound and went back out front. “Well, the cell phone tower is still standing,” I said, looking out into the dark. “Wait a second,” Tori said. “We can’t see the cell phone tower from here. There’s supposed to be a tree in the way.” She was right. The tree in our neighbor’s front yard had blown down, completely uprooted from the soaked ground by the powerful winds.

The storm raged through the night, and we went to bed around 1 a.m. with the winds still howling. In the morning, the power was still out, and a few trees in the neighborhood were down. But we were pretty lucky. Th sun was out, the wind was still, and there was no damage at all at our house.

It was apparently much worse on the other side of the island, with power poles blown down and roads blocked.

The power stayed out for three days. It was more than a minor inconvenience. We thought we’d been prepared, and mostly we were – flashlights, a radio, plenty of food (although we spent the first day and a half eating our way through the freezer before the food spoiled. Friday night we had frozen waffles, friend on the stove, for dinner.

The biggest inconvenience was flushing the toilets. We had plenty of drinking water, but we hadn’t saved nearly enough for flushing, and when you’re on a pump and there’s no electricity, well, you’ve got a problem. Our house sits on a cistern that holds over 6,000 gallons, but the only way to get at it was to open the top of the cistern and fish the water out bucket by bucket. Then you haul the buckets inside, pour them in the back of the toilet and flush, while filling every container you've got with more for the next time someone has to flush.

It got pretty old.

Maybe the most important supply we laid in was some books we’d bought just a few days before the storm hit. At the thrift store we’d found a 37-volume set of Agatha Christie and by the time the power came back on we could probably have entered an Agatha Christie trivia contest and done pretty well.

Finding ice was also a challenge, figuring out which store nearby had it or when they might get it.

Saturday the current was back on at Salaam’s Mini-Mart, the convenience store just 150 feet away on the corner, but we were still in the dark. By that evening we were all pretty tired of it, so when the WAPA (Water and Power Agency) truck came down the road checking all the lines around 7 p.m., we were pretty excited. Half an hour later, lights suddenly came on all up and down the street, accompanied by the sound from every house of people applauding.

A lot of people are calling Omar “The Landscaper,” since a lot of trees got blown down. But the public works crews have been busy and have the streets open and most of the debris cleared. All but a few isolated spots have the current back on. Life is returning to what we call normal on the island.

A lot of folks here have asked what we thought of our first hurricane. We always say, “Not too bad, kind of exciting.” And they almost invariably say, “Oh, that was nothing. You should have been here for Hugo.” Or Marilyn.

Now, I understand that Hugo was the worst thing to hit St. Croix since Columbus. Lots of homes destroyed, plenty of trees and power poles blown over. Power wasn’t restored for most of the island for three or four months (not days) and some people didn’t get current back for six months. Crews from utilities all over the U.S., even from Guam, were flown in to help rebuild the system. So yeah, Hugo was terrible. Omar was nothing.

But Omar was our first hurricane, and it sort of hurt to have people denigrate the experience. But at the same time they were right. Omar was nothing compared to Hugo and I’m delighted I didn’t have to have something that challenged the big one. So, I didn’t follow through with my plan to have a T-shirt made up. On the front it would say, “Yes. I know. Hugo was MUCH worse.” And on the back, “Marilyn, too.”

Anyway, we made it through and life is pretty much back to where it was. We’ve learned a lot and next time (of course, we’re aware there will be a next time) we’ll be even better prepared.

We also still have several more photos and videos to post online. We’ll get to that within the next day or two, and then let it fade into pat of the memory of how we adjusted to life in the Caribbean.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Omar V – Aftermath

Sorry to have been out of the loop, but we've been out of the loop. This is just a note to tell you all is well. The hurricane was – well, kind of exciting. (I know, Hugo was MUCH worse. Everyone we've talked to since Wednesday made sure we understand this.)

So the power went out at 8:25 p.m. and the storm reached its height a little after midnight. I'll have more to say about it later.

The power did not come back on here until about an hour or so ago. So for three days we've been dealing with no electricity, which means also no running water. And no Internet access. So no updating.

We also taped a couple of short hurricane reports for youtube that are still on teh camera since ... like I said, no Internet. We'll get them up tomorrow, though they are a lot less timely now.

Anyway, just wanted to report in. We're all alive and well, if tired and a little skanky. (I'm last in line for he shower, which is odd because I think I'm skankiest.

Until tomorrow. Right now, it's my turn for the shower.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Omar IV – Pics

Omar isn't really here yet, but hey, it's still light out and we still have power, so what the hell.Let's post some pix, even if they don't show much yet, 

 Just to complicate things, I can't figure out the fairly simple blogger controls for posting pix, so there all over the place. I'll have to do one at a time for each post.

This is the front porch, with the windows all boarded up. Also, all the plants and chairs and shells (fabulous shells!) and whatnot (lots of whatnot on our porch) have been ought inside to prevent them from sailing off, or getting blown through something.

Omar III

Landlord came back with more plywood and we're all buttoned down now. Then he headed off to take care of his own home. He mentioned that this house was built about 1964, so it's been through Hugo and others. "This is built right, not like the stuff they're building now," he snorted.

Virtually all the houses in the Caribbean are built of cement and/or cinderblock. You know what you call a stick-built house in a hurricane? Toothpicks. You know what you call a mobile home in a hurricane? A box kite.

In laying in supplies, we thought far enough ahead to include a case of Heineken. Gotta keep your fluids up! This seems like the wrong place to mention, but I'll mention it anyway, that I've been very surprised to discover that people here think Coors Lite is beer. There are a few local beers, and the brewpub in Christiansted does a dark ale called Blackbeard's Ale. It's good, but it's no Dead Guy Ale. And Coors Lite is the top selling beer on the island. I can't fathom it.

We're just hoping that the power stays on long enough to let us see the presidential debate. That ought to be entertaining. But the latest look at the Wunderground (weather underground) maps show Omar making straight for us, I mean like we're the head pin in a bowling alley and Mother Nature is trying for a strike. So we may not get to watch the fun.

Tori's midly disappointed that she couldn't go snorkeling today. When school was cancelled yesterday, first thing she did was wake Alex and take her down to the beach for a swim with the fish. She's gotten hooked on it, and she's been swimming with rays, squid, sea turtles, octopi and lots more. But the swell is up today, the water's choppy and looks turbid. Not even Tori is THAT fanatical to try swimming in this. It'll be a couple of days, and that'll be the first time since August (when we moved into this house) that she's gone more than three days without hitting the sea.

Speaking of which, I wonder how the vacation house we stayed in when we first got here will fare. It's on the north side of the island so might be okay, but it's right on the water, and there's an awful lot of glass.

But that's not for us to worry about today. Today we're hunkered down and staying so for the near future.

Still raining, but not much wind yet. That'll change, I'm sure, as we get closer to nightfall – and landfall.


Here comes Omar II

It was a quiet night, started raining again around 8 a.m. In the last 15 minutes the rain really kicked up. From the pictures on The Weater Channel it looks as if Omar is coming in right over the top of the VI, and since we're on the southwestern corner of the island and the storm's coming from the southwest ... Hmmmm.

We're pretty much set, although our landlord is suggesting you're NEVER really set. He came by to board up te front windows. Sadly, he cut the plywood a foot too short, so he's gone off to get more. It is his house, after all.

The big question for us is power. We don't have a generator, so when the power goes out (and I think it's safe to assume it will, given the local power grid) we'll be in the dark for the duration, which might mean a couple or three days. We've got water laid in, food, cash and a full tank of gas (because if the power's out, gas pumps don't work. Ditto ATMs.)

Excited is the wrong word for what we're feeling. Scared is also the wrong word. Concerned, maybe even anxious, but there's also, I'll admit, some exhilaration. Let's see if I still feel that way tomorrow.

Tori has me doing video spots from the front porch, and she's going to try to post them on youtube. Take care all!

Hmmm. The rain just eased off a tad. Don't think that means anything, though. Omar is coming and there's no stopping him.

We'll check in again as the power situation allows.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Here comes Omar

Posted by John

Just getting ready to wake the kids for school this morning when the phone rang. It was Mrs. Gadd, the principal at Manor School saying school was canceled today because of the approaching tropical depression 15, which by tomorrow should be Tropical Storm Omar. The governor canceled public schools, so the private schools followed suit.

Lots and lots of rain expected. We already had two inches yesterday. On Puerto Rico and St. Thomas there's fear of flooding. Less so here, it's flatter and bigger than STT, but still, a LOT of rain – maybe more than a foot – and it's not like the roads here have a lot of storm drains – or any storm drains. When we get rain there's always streams running down the sides of the roads.

Omar (to be) is southwest of here, around what are called the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao,) but is expected to move northeast, which they almost never do. If you're watching the Weather Channel (which is now my favorite station) if they mention Puerto Rico, you're talking the Virgin Islands too, we're among the smallish little islands you can see to the southeast and east of PR. So we'll be keeping a wary eye on that for the next two days.

Just a reminder that, even though it's no longer September and most of the tropical weather news has dropped off, hurricane season runs through Nov. 1 so you can't let your guard down.

Max and Millie, on the other hand, were delighted to be told to stay in bed because there's no school today or tomorrow. We'll see about Thursday.


Monday, October 13, 2008

A 'funeral' in paradise

Written by Tori Baur

I had a funeral last week. Sad to say that Ginger, my 8 year old Mac laptop with the cool clamshell design, died. A few weeks ago, she exhibited some classic symptoms of failure - strange messages and crashes the likes of which I have never before seen on her screen - and then she died. I zapped her pram and control/alt/shift/option/started her, and repeatedly held her start button down, all of which felt like giving CPR to a DNR patient, but to no avail. I took her to the computer store where a gorgeous young man who looks like Orlando Bloom with the soul of Johnny Depp, told me she was as dead as dead can be and there was not much hope of reviving her unless I was willing to send her far away and pay more money than she was worth. I don't think Orlando Depp liked Ginger much as he sneered at how old she was and how old and slow she most certainly was. Well I told the pretty young lad that I was a little old and slow, but I wasn't ready for the scrap heap just yet.

So I mourned for about three whole minutes and then ran my fingers across the sleek new Macbook. (Thank you, John. We bought it with his Jeopardy money.) I named her Tallulah. While Tallulah doesn't have the quaint clamshell look that I so loved in Ginger, she is pretty damned sleek. And I got the clamshell carrying case in memory of Ginger; may she rest in peace.

I sound like an advertisement for a Macintosh, but that is part of the reason I haven't written a blog entry in while.

The other reason is I have been busy living in paradise. I have been teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade at The Manor School which is a trip in itself and an English teacher's nightmare. Suffice it to say the Cruzan dialect is not given to using standard English. More about that later...

The other reason I have been so busy is I have discovered snorkeling. I try to go every day. It is my reason for living. Weather permitting, almost every day after school I rush home, then hit the beach. I don my mask, snorkel and flippers, float atop the reefs and watch the underwater world ebb and flow and swim on by. And when I say I float on top of the water, I do mean float. It is amazing how buoyant one is in the Caribbean waters. I think it has something to do with the high salt content in the water, and it feels so amazing, almost Christ-like to be able to stay securely on top of the water, never sinking, just floating. And the things I have seen while in this state of bliss!

Green Sea Turtles feasting, giant five-six feet long (not including the tail) spotted Eagle-Rays, jellyfish, huge alien-looking color changing squid, Angelfish, lobster, big-eyed Balloon fish, coral - soft coral, brain coral, hard coral - and a plethora of fish and plants of all different colors, shapes and sizes. What really blows me away is how close to the shore all this underwater life is! Literally just a few feet off the sand there may be three hundred fish, perhaps seventeen different varieties darting in and out of rocks in just a few feet of water. In some places, you can just stand ankle deep and little blue and yellow fish dart between your ankles. Giant brain coral grows just a few yards out, and empty conch shells litter the beach. And the water is so warm and clear. And the beaches are so beautiful and empty. And I feel so lucky to be here doing what I am doing and seeing what I am seeing everyday, and feeling like I feel everyday.

It is a damn good life.

Sure, it is a lot of work. I get up early now. The mosquitos are beyond a nuisance. The power goes out occasionally due to inclement, worrisome tropical storm weather. We have to lock our gate, and the roosters never shut-up. (They constantly crow their merry morning song, which sounds a lot like the opening theme music of the 'Odd Couple.' We always hum the second part of the Odd Couple song after the cock crows it's predictable, opening melody. Try it next time you hear a rooster 'cock-a-doodle-doo'.) So yeah. Some things about living on a tropical island are a pain in the ass. But it is worth it to enter the blue, blue water almost every day and float above and look below at the life under the sea.

So if you don't hear from me for a while, you know where I am.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Three Months

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at our three-month anniversary on St. Croix. It seems like just a few days ago that I met Tori, Janet and Max at the airport on July 1, having arrved with the girls just the day before. At the same time, it feels like we’ve been here far longer, that we’re home.

People have told us, “The first anniversary that matters is four months. By then you’ll know whether you’re likely to stay.” Others have advised us not to ship our personal belongings until we’ve been here at least six months because “what if you hate it and move back right away? You’ll just have to pay to ship it back.”

Well, that ain’t happening. We’re here. We’re home. We’re staying.

Tori loves her job teaching fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the Manor School. I’ve been in her classroom and she’s great at it, and the kids love her. I’m enjoying working for the VI Source, an online-only newspaper. I’ve covered some interesting news already, and I’m starting a really interesting series. All this while waiting for word (any day now, I’m told) that a publisher has finally purchased my novel. (Any word yet, Scott?)

Millie still wants to “go home,” but she’s – not coming around, that’s the wrong phrase. But she’s making friends – in fact today she’s going home after school for a couple of hours with a classmate. In fact, she got elected junior class vice president. That’s not quite as big a deal as it sounds, she’s one of only eight juniors, but still. And she’s attended a sweet sixteen party, and there are far too many boys hanging around her for my comfort.

Max is making friends at school, Kate worked two weeks as a temp, Alex is looking for work and as businesses gear up for the start of tourist season her chances are looking good. In the meantime, she’s already been called on twice to be a substitute teacher at Manor. We need to get Janet out more, it’s hard for her with her health, but she’s adapting.

Even our cat, Roger, is much happier here than the beach house, where the ever-present crash of the surf against the cliff drove him to distraction.

Tori and the girls go snorkeling almost every day after school, and they’ve had some terrific adventures that I’ll let her tell you about. I even got the situation with the bank resolved, and someday they might even let me have some of my money back. Banking here is like banking was 30 years ago in the states – they close at 3 p.m., they hold your check forever, stuff like that. (Any word on the book yet, Scott?)

But all in all, we’re making a life here. We recognize how lucky we are to have sold our home in Oregon to make this move – in fact, if we hadn’t sold when we did we might have lost it in this economy. We have landed on our feet.

And our feet are in the warm waters of the Caribbean. You can’t beat that.