Rains from Tropical Storm Otto caused a nearly 30-foot section of hillside below Centerline Road to cave in.
As rains lashed St. John early this month, one Coral Bay resident got a frightening front row seat to floods, fires and downed telephone poles.
Pam Gaffin, who lives across Centerline Road from the Upper Carolina subdivision entrance, awoke around 2 a.m. early Wednesday morning, October 6, to a river rushing below her home and threatening at her door.
“At 2 a.m. I woke up because the river that was rushing 13 feet below my house was coming into my back door,” said Gaffin. “I jumped up, grabbed my cat and my computer and got the hell out of the house. I thought the house was going to float down the river.”
The flow of runoff caused a roughly 30-foot section of hillside below Centerline Road to cave. Gaffin called 911 and was overjoyed with the operator who answered her call.
“The 911 operator was spectacular,” she said. “I told her, I don’t need the police or the fire, but I needed [Department of Public Works St. John Deputy Director] Mr. Wade. She managed to find him in the middle of that night and he knew exactly where and who I was.”
Shortly after Gaffin made the first 911 call, a crashing telephone pole prompted her to call again, she explained.
“I’ve never seen a transformer blow up before,” said Gaffin. “It wasn’t just sparking, there were fires on the hillside. And the fire truck couldn’t get up here because of the landslides.”
“I thought my house was going to burn down in the middle of a flood,” she said.
When the 911 operator contacted DPW’s Wade, he mobilized a crew and started making his way out to Gaffin’s house. In the meantime, although she didn’t request the V.I. Police Department’s help, an officer arrived.
“I said that I didn’t need the police, but Officer Ramsey tried to come out make sure I was safe,” said Gaffin. “He couldn’t make it on Centerline so he drove around to North Shore Road and he made it. He sat with me until Mr. Wade got here just to make sure I was safe and that no one went off the road.”
Wade and a DPW crew showed up at Gaffin’s house around 5:30 a.m. and a half and hour later a Water And Power Authority crew arrived.
“Mr. Wade got here around 5:30 and a half hour later there is WAPA,” said Gaffin. “There were two poles that went down and WAPA had both poles replaced and the electricity and telephones in Coral Bay — which all runs through that pole — back on by 4 p.m. that day.”
“That is absolutely astonishing,” Gaffin said. “They had the poles, the truck to dig the holes for the poles, the wire and they made the decision to close the road so they could actually get work done and not have to move every time a car went by. I was very impressed with what they did.”
While Gaffin’s power and phones weren’t turned back on by WAPA that day, to her surprise, a crew returned the next morning.
“They didn’t get me power that day,” said Gaffin. “But the next morning there was Innovative running a line for me and then WAPA came and hooked me up. I called [WAPA executive director] Hugo Hodge to thank him and brought a chocolate cake to the WAPA office.”
The roadbed remains unstable, however, and Gaffin urged drivers to proceed through the area slowly.
“Cars should hug the inside of the road there and if there is a traffic jam, do not stop on that part of the road,” said Gaffin. “I do have confidence that DPW will fix the road correctly, but I hope it happens before we have no road to Coral Bay and I have a truck in my house.”
Although Gaffin still has her hands full with mud, landslides and runoff, she was overjoyed with the fast and reliable response to her crisis.
“I was thrilled with DPW, the police, 911 and WAPA,” she said. “Everyone in Coral Bay should say ‘Thank you’ to WAPA and DPW. They were amazing.”