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Friday, May 24, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesHurricane Hugo Memories: George Flores

Hurricane Hugo Memories: George Flores

George FloresI remember the storm hit on a Sunday, I think. We knew it was coming. I was here on St. Croix at my house in Whim and from Friday we kept looking at the news and looking at the trajectory, and the more I looked at it the more I became convinced it was going to hit us. By Saturday, I was convinced. They said it would pass 60 miles to the south, but I was convinced it was heading for us.

I didn’t have a pickup truck but a friend did — I said, look let’s get plywood to protect the window.

He said, nah, that storm is going to pass to the south. I said, Carlos — my friend’s name was Carlos — it’s going to hit us. I want to go buy some plywood, can I borrow your truck?

So we bought maybe 15 sheets and started boarding up that Saturday. Around midnight we had boarded up most of it and left a little for Sunday morning so as not to bother the neighbors hammering all night.

Next morning a friend of mine, Peewee, from Williams Delight, gave me a hand, and he decided to stay with me, him and his wife, because he didn’t trust his home to withstand the storm. So he gave me a hand nailing everything up.

About 3 o’clock, we had one more sheet to put up on the north end of the house, which we left to last, hoping we’d get some news the storm would head off to the south. The wind was blowing then. We had a big tamarind tree, and as the wind picked up I see this tamarind tree is lifting up and I tell my friend Peewee, let’s go nail that last piece of plywood. We nailed it up, it must have been three-thirty or four in the afternoon.

We went inside from then on. I kept looking through a door on the southern end of the house that had a small piece of glass, barely a window. Somewhere around six in the evening, already you began to see some galvanized leaving the roofs of some homes. The wind kept blowing and kept getting worse and worse. My house is a split level and we decided the downstairs was the secure place to go if we had to. But we stayed upstairs because that was the only way we could see outside.

Sometime around eight or nine at night, I can’t remember, the roof from a trailer probably a thousand feet away came flying into my window on the east. It broke through the plywood and broke the tempered glass, which flew into the house so hard it stuck into the kitchen cabinets.

So I told everyone, let’s go downstairs — this is serious.

The downstairs bathroom had only one door and no window, so we decided if things really got bad, this would be our refuge. My daughter put a couple of cushions in the bathtub and went to sleep there for the rest of the storm.

It was really roaring. I have been in a lot of hurricanes and I’ve never seen anything like Hugo; it was real scary. So we kept holding on there. At some point I heard a piece of plywood flapping. The wind had torn loose the cement nails. I told Peewee, we’re really in it. But the eye will hit us, and when it does we’ll go out and nail it up really well. So somewhere around 2:30 or three in the morning I’m not sure exactly what time, the eye hit and we went outside to nail it up.

There was a lot of wreckage everywhere. We saw two trailers totally demolished. One had nothing left but the floor. As we took out our hammers and took all the plywood down, on the south end of the house I saw a rafter, about 16 foot long, three-by-six inch beam with concrete at one end stuck through one of my windows.

We got to work and after a bit the eye passed and the storm came again, but from the west this time, and it seemed like it was mad. Apparently it felt it didn’t do a good job the first time and was coming back with a vengeance — it started just wiping out everything. I saw galvanized roofing pulled up from the opposite side of the house.

We just waited it out and maybe 5 a.m., I’m not sure, when it was all over, I looked outside. There was cable all over the ground. The pole carrying power to my house was broken into three pieces. Sheets of galvanized that had flown through the air went through one sheet of the plywood I had put up and stuck in there, so there was no way to pull it out.

At the south end, a two-by-four went through my roof. And outside in the yard I saw another two-by-four stuck right into a coconut tree.

Practically all the coconut trees were on the ground. I saw total disaster all around, like it had been burned or a bomb had gone off. All the neighbors were lamenting and crying. Some of them had lost everything, especially those in trailers. It looked like someone dropped an atomic bomb here on St. Croix.

I count myself lucky: All I suffered was a single hole in my roof, a balcony was destroyed and some shingles blew off. I consider that that very lucky compared to all those people who lost so much.

I wasn’t sure how my brother made out and Peewee wanted to know how his house made out, so we grabbed a machete and he, his wife, me and my wife, we headed out. There were all kinds of trees on the road, mahogany, tamarind, coconut, all, torn up. Centerline (Road) was totally impassable.

We got as far as Estate Carlton and while trying to go to where my brother was, we met him coming down Centerline. He had lost more than half his roof and he lost a lot of his military clothes that went flying everywhere. His house got pretty much ripped up.

Then we went into Williams Delight. We saw houses ruined left and right. There was a two-story house with the top floor all gone — picked up and thrown down on the ground.

Peewee’s house, part of the roof had lifted up. His wife was crying, seeing the house ripped up.

We traded comments with people and reviewed the situation and decided to come back down the Melvin Evans Highway. As we drove down Mr. (Alex) Moorhead from Hess (Hovensa) was coming down the road in a wagon. He gave us a ride down as far as he could, dropping us at the ballpark. He told me Hess was a total disaster.

I couldn’t get my car out of my driveway because the (electric) cables had to be cut. He said don’t worry just get back as soon as you can. It took me five days.

I have to say this: I don’t know if it was Public Works or who but they did a terrific job of cleaning up Centerline, and by Tuesday you could pass through in one lane.

We went into Christiansted to see about buying cooking gas, but everything was closed. But a woman I knew who lost a trailer, the tank of gas was still there so I asked if she was going to use it, and she said "Why? I have no trailer or stove," so she said I could take it. I told her I’d buy her one as soon as she got situated but she said, no, just take it.

It was truly a blessing and I am forever grateful to that lady. Since then, like everyone else, she managed to rebuild with a home instead of a trailer and lives about a block away.

For some reason, six months earlier I had bought a generator from Sears and I was able to get some electricity into the house. But the problem was getting fuel. Most gas stations had no generators back then and so there were long lines and the gas was expensive. But again I was lucky. Working at Hess, they began giving their employees $10 worth of gas every week and they gave us drinking water too. I would take a bottle of water and put it in the freezer in the warehouse where I worked, then bring it home and put it in the fridge.

So all in all, with all the horrors, we managed to survive and from the ruins caused by Hugo I think we created a stronger community that can withstand much stronger hurricanes today. I’m only sad we lost all the warning sirens in the storm and to this day they have not replaced them. If we got hit by a tsunami in the middle of the night we’d never know.

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