A month after Hurricane Maria, life is still nowhere close to normal on St. Croix. Tom Calhoun, vice president of the St. Croix Reformed Church, reports that 98% of the island is still without electricity. The government hopes to restore full power by the end of the year, but few people believe that goal is realistic. A donated diesel generator means that the church has enough power to hold Sunday worship services. “We can run the water pump to flush toilets,” Calhoun says. “And we can turn on the microphone and speaker system, the organ, and some ceiling fans.”
Life remains difficult on St. Croix today. But it’s a big improvement over the first few post-storm weeks. Most people had been relying on military MREs for sustenance for three or four weeks after the hurricane. Now, grocery stores are starting to restock their shelves, and the lines are no longer hours long as they were before. But everyone is still filling buckets to bathe as well as to flush their toilets.
It took Calhoun and his family three days to cut through the fallen trees on their property and reach the main road. “Big mahogany trees. Jacarandas. Mangoes. Coconut palms. It just all came down,” he says. “There was not a leaf on a single tree. Everything was just brown. You couldn’t see past the 10, 12, 15-foot piles of brush surrounding our house.”
Eight of St. Croix’s fifteen public schools have been condemned. The many schoolteachers in St. Croix Reformed Church’s congregation are struggling to cope with overcrowding and stress. The island’s hospital has been condemned, too. “The only hospital facility we have is a tent set up by the military to provide basic care,” Calhoun says. Anyone with more significant medical needs is shipped off-island.
Even for those who might seem okay on the surface, these post-hurricane days have been plagued by waves of anxiety. Nights are often sleepless. “You hear these stories of roofs peeling off. People crawled into their closets and were curled up in a ball on the floor with 200-mile-an-hour winds swirling around,” Calhoun says. “People’s windows were blown in, and their possessions flying around. People are having a lot of difficulty trying to process that.”
St. Croix Reformed Church has already received $10,000 from the Regional Synod of New York, which aims to raise $50,000 for the church by the end of this month. The church’s hurricane-relief subcommittee is looking at making much-needed repairs to the church; retrofitting part of its education building so that it can house volunteers who want to travel to the island to help; and identifying people in both the congregation and the wider community who have especially dire financial need.
“We’re surviving,” Calhoun says. “We’re really just trying to survive and help our neighbors survive.” But even amid trial, he sees signs of resilience and hope knit into God’s creation. “The storm was so devastating that it’s been hard to see beauty after the storm. Everywhere you look, it’s twisted metal and broken glass,” he says. “But now, you look out, and each tree is sprouting leaves and budding. It’s amazing the way life works. They’re making a lot faster comeback than we are, I guess.”
To donate to the recovery efforts of St. Croix Reformed Church, and help the Synod reach its goal of $50,000 in October, please send checks to the Synod office:
RSNY Admin Office, 42 N. Broadway Ave., Tarrytown, NY 10591
For more information on the hurricanes’ effects on our congregations and how to help, visit the Hurricane Recovery page of our website.