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*Note: I wrote and scheduled this post prior to Hurricane Sandy. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.
LEFT BEHIND- the Aftermath
(Part 2 of “Gone with the Hurricane.”)*
We return to the island to survey the destruction. The telltale washboard swells from Hurricane Hugo’s wake is still visible in the ocean below…
We buzzed the island. Debris strewn everywhere. Nary a rooftop intact. The entire island, once a vast green jungle, lay brown and defoliated, as if the enemy had dropped napalm. The only boats not sunk were those washed ashore.
—AFTER— Boats cluttered the streets of downtown Christiansted.
People emerged from their battered homes and waved to us; we were their first contact from the outside world in two days.
Hugo scored a DIRECT hit on St. Croix…then parked its blender over the island for 8 solid hours…
Rudy circled Christiansted Harbor and gingerly set down in the water, careful not to hit any flotsam from the newly sunk ships. He taxied up the ramp and out of water.
Seaplane Shuttle employees ran up and cheered; they hadn’t known our fate any more than we had theirs. I shared a tender reunion with Julia, who survived unscathed.
—TRIUMPHANT RETURN— Shuttle employees cheer our arrival, the first sign of civilization they’d seen in 3 days.
Endangered species:The precious Grumman Mallard, now nearly extinct.
The planes we left in St. Croix had not survived. They lay scattered across the ramp; twisted pieces of scrap. At the airport, I found, the other Otter lay on its back, wings clipped at the root, landing gear sticking skyward like the legs of a dead horse.
Cap’n Aux invites Julia aboard.
Hugo claimed the lives of 25 people; no one we knew, thank goodness, was hurt. But each had a chilling horror story to tell.
—AFTER— Our apartment: Flooded, destroyed. But we were lucky. The only thing left standing in the apartment above us was the shower stall.
John, a Seaplane Shuttle mechanic, hid under a mattress in his bathroom. With a barometric altimeter, he dutifully recorded the pressure drop while his apartment fell to pieces around him. At the height of the storm, he noted, the barometric pressure had plummeted over four inches below standard, the equivalent of 4,000’ of altitude, and shattering the record for all previously recorded hurricanes.
—AFTER— FO Chris’s former residence
One boat owner, determined to stay with his ship, became a human cannonball as a gust hurtled him into the top of a palm tree. He crash-landed unharmed, if a bit dazed.
For the next two weeks, chaos reigned. Looting was rampant. Gunshots rang through the night. Gas and food became instant precious commodities. When driving around the island in “the Flaming Pumpkin,” my bright orange Ford Fiesta “Island car” junker, I carried a machete.
—AFTER— “The flaming pumpkin,”my trusty island car, saves our bacon..
That experience made me a true believer in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms.**
After the disaster, most of us moved stateside; leaves blown and scattered in the hurricane wind. Some stayed behind to rebuild their homes. With our scant few posessions, Julia evacuated on a U.S. army C-141 while I stayed behind for two weeks to help close the airline down.
The Seaplane pilot gang, scattered in the hurricane wind. Represented at this table: future pilots for America West Airlines, USAirways, Delta, United and American Airlines.
For the past year, I had been a highfalutin’ commuter airline captain, living worry free in paradise. Now, I was pilot pauper, with no poker game in sight to scam a new job (See “The Poker Game that Launched my Career.”) I jumpseated home to Phoenix with my tail between my legs, once again wondering about my future…
The intrepid crew left behind dig out.
Endangered species: The precious Grumman Mallard, now nearly extinct.
Confucius say: He who live in glass house should not reside in hurricane alley.
Hurricane Sale! Everything must (or already did) go!!!
Clearing an escape path
Today, St. Croix is largely the resort island it once was. And that little airline in paradise, gone with the hurricane, has since been replaced by several other intrepid seaplane operators. The Islands just wouldn’t be the same without one.
As naughty as little Hugo had been, his Mother has seen to it the mess is cleaned up.
My only question: WHERE THE HELL did that kitchen stove come from?!?!?!?!
*Note: I wrote this story shortly after experiencing Hugo. In no way do I want to detract from the many hardships and sufferings experienced by survivors and victims of Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, Ivan, etc. This is merely the story of my experience.
**Sadly, once Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, NC, the plight of the USVI’s were completely forgotten by the outside world. The first political figure to set foot on St. Croix—one week later—was Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Addendum: Cap’n Aux, Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle/TWA Express, went on to become FO Aux, Rocky Mountain Airways/Continental Express.