by Dana Bartlett, a/k/a Donkey Dana
Keeping horses, let alone any domestic animal is a challenge on St. John. I’ve always been drawn to animals whether it was my neighbor’s ponies or the cows in a nearby pasture. I’ve also appreciated cool breezes and the sight of clear, blue water. Hence I had them both and coupled with the fauna found my nitch on St. John.
Then we ended up enveloped by a mega-maniacal hurricane with the unpretentious name of Irma. I knew by the Friday before we were going to take a direct hit. But, no one could have imagined the severity of winds and pressure affecting everyone both high and low. Entire houses were blown apart and down the hill while others remained. I saw one 20ft container had been lifted up and placed right side up on the other side of a house.
I myself spent the storm in a concrete-walled home which had withstood several hurricanes. I was given careful instructions about how to close the front shutters and door which faced east to the prevailing wind. Hurricane glass proof windows faced both north and west with no shutters having been installed on them. One gave an excellent view of a palm tree being bent completely over and then allowed upright for a moment between gusts. Then the wind changed direction.
A young lady and her three children were with me as the renter had convinced her this would be a safer place to stay than in her own home. The children were in the living area with the windows when I encouraged to move out of that area as the wind intensified. Soon after a window including its casing blew straight into the space where they’d been. I knew this meant a very good likelihood of air coming in causing significant damage.
Our attempts at blocking it off were futile with first one couch on top of another and a bedroom door I pried off with two hammers. That pushed me onto the ground at the first gust. Afterwards, we had no choice but to get back into the bedroom before watching the kitchen window blow in. That’s when the roof started breathing. Not wanting to see how much it could withstand, we dashed into the bathroom. Mom making sure all her children had their shoes on which was great foresight.
I took my two dogs, purse and pillow for what we were hoping would be a prolonged wait in the bathroom for the storm to quell. I don’t know who ended up in the bathtub first when we saw light through the drywall of the ceiling, but all of us jumped in not excluding the dogs as they could also see something really bad was happening. After that, it was something like out of the movies where the only protection we had from Irma and her ire was a shower curtain and the 2×4 framing around the bathroom preventing larger sheets of drywall, tile and plywood from falling on us.
A washer placed right next to the shower between that and the sink, normally a strange place to find a washer. But this time it was a Godsend, adding additional weight to our little space. Despite these protective barriers, we were all positive we were going to die that day. It was only a matter of how. I was wondering how far down the hill was I going to be thrown and how much it was going to hurt? That’s when Tyra and I started praying like it was a revival!!! Although we had not discussed our similar faith. The children joined in and we pleaded with God to save us. Although far from perfect in serving Him, I was particularly depressed that after trusting Him and all I’ve done and given up in life this is how it was to end? Then I was like “NO!” even though I realized I really didn’t really have much say in the matter. For an hour we cried out until finally, we were quiet. What more could we say? To wait for what will be. Thankfully at one point, I was able to see that the entire roof was gone and there was nothing left to fall on us. Then a little over halfway through the storm, we all felt the same assurance, that we were going to be ok.
Only a few tiles still hung on and both bathroom mirrors were left, one of which landed on us intact. We were able to remove that and other debris in a coordinated effort and even allow some of the water to drain which had collected beneath us. The children and I, with the youngest only 6 years old, tried to remain as comfortable as possible until the worst of the storm was over and we could make our escape to the neighbors and the sturdier house next door. However, they became aware of our situation when they saw the beam of our roof in their pool.
At the first opportunity we heard another familiar phrase, “Is there anybody here?”. “Yes!!!” we all cried out in unison as two men made their way over strewn lumber and plywood, glass and furniture to safely help us out. One rescuer even went back after my bigger dog who slipped her collar in the panic of our exit. She had been extremely shaken during the storm while wanting to stay as close to me as possible. At one point putting her head out a hole which formed in the shower curtain to look around. My little guy, I couldn’t be more proud as he sat unmovable the entire time. Next door, was a welcome of towels and dry clothes, food, and a bed. A much, much welcome change of where we’d just been and in the company of others, safe from the storm. As my fellow survivor expressed, we went from being IN the hurricane to a pillow. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than that.
The aftermath of Irma followed by Maria has left those who have chosen to remain on St. John searching for ways to regain their comfortable life. My corral was made up of portable sheds which were all I could afford at the time, although I had plans drawn up for a barn before clearing land and moving onto the property in ’09. All 5 sheds with the exception of one wall were scattered in all 4 directions. All three of my 2000 gallon water tanks were sent flying down the road with one of them obliterated. I looked for a long time from up high for an intact tank before finding a piece. Search over.
My goal is to not reconstruct the corral as it was, but build it with the strength to withstand another 100-year event providing a safe place for all the animals. Never again do I want them to experience the same cold, hard fear I did while exposed to whatever the weather has in store for them. For this, I’ll need help from animal lovers and those who love to see the light in the eye of their companions (even when they’re not on their best behavior).
I have several ways in which you can help, one being a Just Giving account set up by my sister Tania Bishop to cover immediate needs including debris removal and cleanup. And a GoFundMe to cover long-term care needs such as feed, rent and veterinary costs for at least a year as St. John rebuilds. I was told about a larger movement underway in the New England area with talk of a container of horse supplies. In this, I would like to include materials to build the stable of my dreams, suited for the site with the ideal design for a trail ride establishment.
I am hoping for support from former trail riders who understand the importance of giving these furry island residents a good home (although their owner is not always the most smiley person around). As many people are aware care of these animals is a great responsibility with its own measure of stress, made worse by the storm. As a result, my health has been at risk as I fight stress-related boils erupting into open wounds. These infections have inhibited my ability to effectively communicate to all of you who have expressed concern for myself and the animals. It wasn’t until I saw a disaster response doctor and nurse from John Hopkins hospital that I received correct care and medication.
Communication has also been hampered by cell service available only on the west side of the island while the Coral Bay fire station is providing limited WiFi. I’m able to check messages daily, so please feel free to message me via FB or email me at stjoh[email protected] with your support or concerns. I hope to hear from you all soon!
Here’s how folks can help: Via Paypal at [email protected] for immediate needs and building a solid barn for my guys and a GoFundMe titled “Post Irma Equine Care on St John VI” for future needs including feed, rent, and supplies. They can also send a check if they’d like to Dana Bartlett 16133 Spring, St. John, VI 00830.