Glastonbury native Rebecca Cavanna rode out Hurricane Irma when it hit Saint Thomas as a Category 5 storm and described it “like being in a blender.”
“It’s almost like being in a washing machine at a Laundromat, like when you see the clothes in the water and it’s blurry, and it just splats against the windows,” Cavanna said.
In the rush to send resources down to Texas and Florida hurricane victims, she said she doesn’t want people to forget about their fellow U.S. citizens who were devastated by the storm.
“Just don’t forget about us. It was a Category 5. It was a really small island and it’s really, really devastated right now. We need help so badly,” said Cavanna.
The Glastonbury native has made Saint Thomas home for more than a decade after going on vacation there and falling in love with it.
“It’s beautiful … and gone,” she said, tearing up while talking about the island she now calls home.
Cavanna said she’s been through tropical storms before but, “Nothing like this. Nothing like Irma.”
Cavanna said the entire island, at just 32-square-miles, was uprooted.
“Everyone sustained damage. I don’t think there’s a single home or building that did not,” she said.
With Irma having been forecast to land north of Saint Thomas, Cavanna and her 4-year-old son, William Beer, rode out the storm in a family member’s home.
“We could see the roof-sunlight coming between the walls and the roof and just water pouring in. I mean, it sounded like we were in a blender. It was so loud and so scary,” she said.
They spent the next few nights sleeping in a friend’s heavily damaged home.
“We were staying on a mattress in the basement with glass everywhere,” she recalled.
Eventually, they made it to their own condo to see the damage Hurricane Irma left behind.
“We saw the roof in the driveway. A roof. And I was really hoping it wasn’t mine,” said Cavanna.
“Our house blew away,” Beer said.
Their roof landed on their neighbor’s car. The walls of their condo were caved in and the neighborhood was flattened.
“It’s so devastating. We had just bought that home eight months ago,” Cavanna said. “We had just made it our home and then it was gone.”
Five days after Irma hit, Cavanna and her son hitched a ride on a plane that came into Saint Thomas on a humanitarian mission. She said she was one of only 13 people on the plane and they made it back to her hometown of Glastonbury Tuesday morning.
“We were very, very lucky. Right place, right time,” she said.
The family would like to return to Saint Thomas, but Glastonbury will be home for the foreseeable future because it could take a year for their condo to be rebuilt.
“I want to go back, but I just don’t feel like I can subject my 4-year-old to that,” said Cavanna.
She said stories of armed gangs looting neighborhoods made her worry about her safety and that of her son. She added that those who are trapped on the island have no running water or electricity and very little fuel. Most generators run on diesel and with the shortage, those who have them only run them for an hour in the morning and at night.
The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands has set up a fund for the three U.S. territories affected by the storm.