Power Restoration On Christmas Wish List
His wish is for power by Christmas.
That’s the hope of Britton native and 1991 Britton High School graduate Carl Satrang who now calls St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands home. The hurricane-ravaged islands took a one-two punch from Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria nearly three months ago.
Since the monster storms Satrang has had sporadic contact with his mother, Peggy Satrang of Britton, due to power issues that affects cell phone usage. He said that 50 percent of the islands had power two months after the storms and that the governor has promised that 90 percent of St. Thomas will have power by Christmas.
“The toughest thing to deal with has been the lack of communication,” said Satrang. “It has taken so long for cell service to come back and even now it is not reliable. We have no television, and if you have an AM radio you can get a few stations but there is no island-wide ability to get information out.
“This island is just 14 miles by four miles, but there is a mountain in the middle of it. Even on the best of days I sometimes can’t get a call out to a friend on the north side.”
Workers are doing their best to rebuild the power infrastructure, but it’s a slow process.
“We’ve had an influx of linemen that are doing everything they can to throw up power poles and get them strung,” said Satrang. “Now it will be a matter if the local power company can actually get current running to those.”
Satrang is still drinking bottled water. Every time he leaves the house he stops at a store to pick up more water, and at times people are standing in the hot sun for three to four hours waiting in line.
The lack of power has made normal day-to-day activities, like taking a shower, an adventure.
“The only people with access to power are those who can afford a generator or were lucky enough to have purchased one before the storm,” noted Satrang. “My neighbors do have one that they have let me run enough during the day to keep the refrigerator cold. A few friends have whole-house generators, and I am able to stop in once a week and get a shower. Everybody is just hoping to get back to some semblance of normal.
“Every once in a while frustration gets to a breaking point, but overall it’s been pretty amazing to watch people pull together to make this work,” added Satrang.
That semblance of normal will be some time in coming. The only industry in St. Thomas is tourism, and resorts are not planning to open until mid to late 2018 because of the damage. That puts thousands of local people out of work.
Hurricane Irma went right over the top of St. Thomas on Sept. 6, and Satrang weathered the five to six-hour storm in his concrete condo complex. He had some water through the windows but no physical damage to the apartments themselves. But he vividly remembers what it was like to step outside after the storm.
“I stepped outside and saw all the palm trees and bushes stripped. It looked like South Dakota in February. Nothing green was left.”
His apartment overlooks a bay, a small motel, and a beach bar.
“The shape of the beach had changed, water had come in and wrecked the bar, and sand was pulled away from the beach into the water. Roads were covered in trees and power poles and we were immediately under a 24-hour curfew. We couldn’t leave the property and it took three to four days to get a phone call out to anyone to let them know that I was physically okay.”
Cleanup work began and small repairs made, but then came Maria. That Category 5 storm passed just to the south of St. Thomas on Sept. 19 but hung around for 12 hours.“I wish that I could explain the sound that occurred during the night,” recalled Satrang. “I don’t ever want to hear that sound again. It was enough to drive a person mad with the patio doors flexing, and the front wood doors giving and taking. It was happening in the middle of the night and there was nothing you could do but hope for the best.”
By the next day Satrang once again was able to get out of his home, and anything that had been fixed after Irma was completely wiped out.
“Tarps on roofs and things like that were all gone. We had to start all over again. Since that time we’ve been trying to get roads cleaned and figure out where the most immediate needs are. It’s been an experience.”
It was in the aftermath of the second storm that Satrang took a hit emotionally.
“After the second storm I stopped taking pictures. At that point it was personal. I wanted people to see what had happened, but I knew the person who lived in that house and I didn’t need to share their pain with the outside world.”
Satrang works in a consignment shop that has been open “off and on.” It is running on a generator so hours are limited because of the expense of keeping the propane generator filled.
“It’s been a balancing act, but I have been able to work and buy some food. As more and more power comes back places are staying open longer, but there are no street lights and garbage trucks are running non-stop clearing debris. Add all of those trucks to wet roads that were not necessarily in the best shape to start with, and the result is that some of them are not drivable.”
Satrang said that there is some frustration among St. Thomas residents due to a perceived lack of attention given to the damage done to the islands.
“The lack of attention that the national news has given the Virgin Islands as a whole has been frustrating for us. Puerto Rico is bigger and had a lot more damage, but these three islands are still part of the United States. We had to start fighting a little bit to make sure that aid organizations don’t overlook everybody here.”
Satrang considers himself among the fortunate.
“I am very blessed compared to a lot of people. I don’t have power or water, but I have a house, and I’m okay camping in my own house. My Midwestern upbringing in dealing with day-long blizzards prepared me a little bit.”
Satrang moved to St. Thomas just over two years ago, and despite the devastation caused by the storms considers the island his home.
“Before the storm there were 50,000 people here, and I would venture to guess that maybe 10,000-15,000 have left. The hospital was destroyed and is still not back in operation, and the school opened a month and a half late. A lot of the parents with children went stateside so they could enroll in school.
“But I am done with winter and have left the rat race for something calmer and warmer. This is my home now. I did go stateside three weeks after Maria, but I was longing to come back after a couple of days. I just wanted to go back to my broken but still calm and beautiful island.”
Satrang admitted to never being more scared than when he was hunkered down during the hurricanes.
“It’s been every emotion in the book. I really didn’t know what an actual hurricane was to start with, and the power has been eye-opening. Having seen blizzards and tornadoes and all the stuff you see in the Midwest, this was the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life. It’s just knowing that you’re physically trapped until it (the hurricane) decides to let you out.”