Vieques, PR - September 2017 - Chapter 2 - We Dodged A Bullet

WOW what a journey. This post will entail some reading, but a lot has gone on with the preparation, arrival, and aftermath of hurricane Irma. While we didn’t get hit directly, we did experience winds and rain. The majority of damage on the island was limited to trees, which in turn took out power.

Hurricane Irma tracked north of Puerto Rico
We’ll start with my arriving to Vieques about 2 hours early.

Knowing J and Lisa were in full hurricane prep mode, I decided to grab some lunch at the ‘airport by the bar’, at least that’s what the sign said at the bar. Ordering a beer, and chicken Quesadilla, I fell into a conversation with a couple contractors that were leaving the next morning. As they put it, they ‘were told to evacuate the island’; so were almost every tourist on Vieques. Hurricane Irma was going to be a monster and if the islands of Puerto Rico took a direct hit, nobody would be coming or going for a while.

After eating and drinking a few beers, Lisa picked me and we headed for the Esperanza Inn (owned by J and Lisa). With both their house and Inn having pets, two sitters were needed, I had the house and a middle aged fellow named Jack was going to sit the Inn.

Arriving at the Inn, greeted by J, and meeting Jack, I helped J with the some final prep. Jack on the other hand, well, he left.

Daylight was fading, so we called the day finished and would secure smaller items in the morning.

As I lay in bed, slowly rising for an early morning beach walk, I heard what sounded like suitcases thumping down stairs. Walking out the gate, Jack noticed me and said he was leaving, getting off the island. Asking him if he had contacted Lisa, he simply said he’d sent them a text and handed me his keys, as he got into his waiting taxi.

MIKE’S NOTE: For those of you unfamiliar with my notes, let me explain a little. Here is where I divert from normal, positive only postings, to express someone’s actions that I personally think was/is wrong. Jack committed to watching the inn and with adequate research and communications with J and Lisa he would have known a hurricane was imminent. His backing out left J and Lisa in a bind, was disrespectful, unprofessional, and put a negative tint on house sitters.  He was staying in a building constructed on poured concrete walls and roof with rebar reinforcement, storm windows with added shutters; plenty safe. END MIKE’S NOTE.

J arrived, and soon after, Doug, a local that occasionally works at the Inn showed up. Doug took over a large portion of Jack’s duties while we worked out details for after storm cleanup. Before J left to get ready to travel, the three of us moved plants, benches, outside decorations, and what J called ‘potential projectiles’ inside.

After dropping J and Lisa off at the airport, I stopped by Carol’s house (I’ve house sit for her in the past and we remain friends). She had a young British couple, Ryan and Corina, sitting her house and had ask me to check and help them if possible; of course it was possible.

For a couple that are totally unfamiliar with hurricanes I was surprised at how much they had prepared for the storm. Carol had explained what needed to be done, they did it, and had their plans laid out to finish and evacuate to the Esperanza Inn. This is the same Inn that I stay in and the one Jack was supposed to be sitting.

I explained a little about the workings of a hurricane and suggested they go to the Inn tonight, arriving early to avoid fallen trees or other obstructions in the roadway. Knowing they had taken precautions for Carol’s animals, and they had provisions for a couple of days at the Inn, we agreed I’d make my way to the Inn as soon as possible.

Last night we had a couple brief rain showers with insignificant wind. As I rose from bed we had acloudy sky, slight breeze, and pleasant temperatures; no appearance of an impending hurricane.
About 0730 hours, the power went off and according to local chatter, it was turned off as a preemptive measure. Through the chatters, I also learned that winds and rain would start in the afternoon, progressively getting worse. I met up with Ryan and Corina, informed them of this information and we all agreed, they’ll stay at the Inn another night.

There's a house under that tarp

The wind started picking up, and rain has been increasing. I ran the generator for a couple hours to put some power on the refrigerator and charge my electronics. With the weather as it was, I kept the generator under cover and was reminded how loud those things are.

Early morning wind and rain

The day progressed without a major change in weather until late in the afternoon when winds started to pick-up. With the wind now gusting to tropical storm strength (45-74mph) I attempted restarting the generator. On my second pull of the cord, the handle detached in my hand with the cord itself recoiling inside the housing. No generator tonight, might as well go to be early.

Heavier wind and rain

I awoke in the morning to stronger winds and heavier rain, marking the progress of hurricane Irma.

As the day wore on, the wind and rain decreased, but continued into the night. Local chatter from those tracking the weather via cell phone apps and communications with the main island of Puerto Rico tracked the storm moving more north than originally predicted. That is good news for Vieques, but not so good for other islands.

The night came early with the cloud cover, no lights, and boredom.

A totally new day welcomed me with a blue sky’s, and a slight breeze; Irma had past. That was the positive side. Last night I lost cellular network service and any type communications was impossible;some local had limited service, but I had none.

Sunrise after hurricane Irma

First task of the day, check the house for damage. Plenty of leaves, sticks, and other debris in the yard, an avocado and mango tree with several fallen limbs, and one mango tree uprooted and toppled. No structural or vehicle damage. We dodged a big one.

Mango tree uprooted

From the assessment of the house, it was off to find Ryan, Corina, and check for damage at the Inn.

Leaving the house, a neighbor stopped in front to clear a tree that had fallen, blocking the road. As we completed the removal, I asked if he knew of someone that could fix the generator. He gave me instructions to a guy’s house, we shook hands and went on our way.

 A short drive across the hilltop

Driving by Carol’s house, I noticed Ryan and Corina were already there, so we checked the house. They were fine, the house, carport, and chicken coup all remained intact. Carol has more, and larger trees than J and Lisa and while none had fallen, but again, plenty of fallen leaves and branches.

Final stop was Esperanza Inn where I met up with Doug. We walked around the property finding no structure damage, just plenty of fallen debris to clean up. The only thing that was damaged was the six foot chain link fence which had broken loose. This was temporarily secured and Doug got started on the preliminary cleanup.

 The drive up the hill to the house

Finally getting a weather report from Doug, he confirmed Irma made a more northerly turn than expected and we were spared a direct hit.

After dropping off the generator and agreeing to pick it later, I drove to the airport looking for cellular signal. Eureka. I called J and Lisa who were stranded in San Juan for another day as well as Carol in the US. Their questions answered, and tensions relieved, it was time to start the cleanup process.

Just before dark, I retrieved the generator only to be told he couldn’t fix it because ‘it was too much work’. Arriving home just after dark, I grabbed a glass of rum, went outside on the hammock to relax.

That didn’t last long, the mosquitoes out in force, I was driven inside, finished my drink, and went to bed.

Along with mosquitoes, I was visited by this land crab
 Walking outside in the morning, I thought, if you were unable to see the fallen limbs and trees, downed or low hanging wires, and general debris that covered landscape, you’d be hard-pressed to believe a storm had just past. The sun was shining, sky was partly cloudy, and a pleasant tropical sea breeze comforted the skin.

Back to the airport to make contact with my family. Talking to my brother and sister, I found out that while I may have been spared a direct hit from Irma, my home in Florida was in the center of the ‘cone of probability’. Not good news. My brother had already covered the windows with storm shutters and final preparation was completed.

Before heading to Esperanza I checked my text message and J had sent one giving me the name of another guy to fix the generator. I left for the Inn and found Doug cleaning up. He took a break and showed me where the next generator guy was. I dropped it off and was told it would be ready by 1600 hours.

Returning home, I cleaned up the majority of limbs, cut and moved tree branches before returning for the generator. When I arrived the repairman’s house, the generator was torn apart. He explained that the magnetos had oxidized and showed me several that had broken apart. The generator is not repairable until we order and receive the needed parts.

That pretty much does it for the excitement of hurricane Irma with one exception; no electricity for nine days.

As I post this, we are now in full preparation mode for hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is again in the cone of probability and Maria should be hitting us Wednesday or Thursday. Stay tuned, all the forecast models have this one tracking right over us; and my gut tells me we’re in for a big blow.

Until next time, travel safe

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