Rushing Rain and Runoff Puts St. John on Pause

An overturned jeep in the parking lot of Mongoose Junction.

A torrential rain began pounding Cruz Bay, St. John around 7 a.m., Thursday. One year after the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, followed by several days of heavy rains, this deluge brought back memories.

It also made some new ones. Before the last drop fell by mid-morning, social media flashed images of an overturned jeep in swirling water, in the road near the Mongoose Junction Shopping Center.

Police cars and firetrucks headed towards the St. John Marketplace and the road passing by the tennis court, leading to the inter-island barge dock. Flash floods took over.

A pickup truck sat stalled with water up to its hood. Another photo posted to Facebook showed a compact car half submerged and listing to the side a few feet from the tennis court. Some vehicles turned back towards the Cruz Bay Traffic Circle along a one-way street.

From his chair behind the front desk of the Leander Jurgens Police Command, Officer Quoizel Francis said no one called to report the overturned jeep. Or the stranded pick up.

“Nobody called us,” Francis said. Patrol cars traveled to the scene of the flash flood.

The desk officer said he heard about the overturned jeep the way others did, but did not know what happened after that.

A brief morning power outage left the few businesses that were open in the rain in the dark. Some early morning commuters from St. Thomas made it to the Marketplace, reporting for work at a supermarket and the Water and Power Authority.

Power returned as the rain abated at Santos Laundromat. A trio of women stood at the door, watching the storm until a sharp crack of thunder shooed them away.

But by Noon, the St. Thomas workers were on their way back home from the Marketplace, said shopping center manager Deborah Marsh. Most of the stores in the Marketplace stayed closed for the day: The drug store, the mail center, the bookstore/coffee stand/lottery vendor, the bank.

A yellow mop handle stood up in a bucket inside the open office of a villa rental. St. John Hardware, on the second level, opened its doors.

“Nobody showed up. Starfish (Supermarket) closed at 11 a.m. The folks who did show up early came from St. Thomas and they left about 12 noon because they were concerned the boats would stop,” Marsh said.

Shortly after 2 p.m., the supermarket reopened with the afternoon crew largely made up of St. Johnians.

A similar scene unfolded at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center. The doors of the center stayed closed. No one answered a knock at the door of the park ranger station.

But three maintenance workers showed up to the scene of a rock slide in the parking lot behind the visitor’s center. Loose rocks and fallen branches were wedged up under government vehicles.

Back at the hardware store, counter clerk Sarah Swan said customers couldn’t make it up the flooded driveway until almost 1 p.m..One maintenance worker came with a backhoe and scooped up piles of debris.

“We usually roll a lot of stuff out and then back in at the end of the day. But today we did not roll that much stuff out,” Swan said.

In her third floor office, Marsh showed off a cell phone video of rainwater rushing down the rocky borders of the Marketplace’s third level parking lot.

“Look, I have my own waterfall,” she said.

Of the eight years she has worked as the shopping center manager, flooding at the foot of the driveway is a recent development, Marsh said. She asked what happened to the person introduced to the community as the St. John planner.

She suggested flooding problems can be blamed on unregulated development. So did shopper Eleanor Gibney, who lives on the island’s North Shore.

“I have three new guts in my front yard where the rain ran through,” Gibney said. The cause, she said, was a concrete driveway built on a neighboring property.

When the rain falls, it seeks the fastest path to the sea. Before the concrete driveway, that rain would have run down a nearby gut, she said.