Hurricane Maria Devistates St. Croix, and Our Imediate Plans to Build

Just when we thought we were one of the luckiest islands in the Caribbean to escape the grasp of a Catagory 5 hurricane named Irma, Catagory 5 Maria sweeps through the Leeward Islands, this time further South, devastating our new home town. Two Catagory 5 hurricanes within 12 days. Most every island in the Caribbean is completely devistated.

 

Earl Morris, veteran videographer is out and about looking around St. Croix on Day 2 after Maria and has sent Channel 8 TV some pictures from his journey

Posted by WSVI Ch8news on Thursday, September 21, 2017

 

Shaleece and I had finally flown back to the mainland after a 5 day airport delay due to Irma’s path towards Florida before Maria hit. We gathered in our RV after assessing the near $40,000 worth of roof, fence and seawall damage to our Orlando home from Irma and headed out to work in Arkansas for Backwoods as well as the wedding we were attending in Texas of our good friend Erin and Joey.

While on site in Arkansas, we watched and listened in horror how our friends and family on our new home island were in for one of their worst storms in 27 years since Hugo, which also devastated the island.

Since then I have been reluctant to write in this blog. The wind has left our sails momentarily and we are trying to figure out our next move. With the damage in Orlando and not being able to rent it out as quickly, we have some work on our hands before we completely close our Florida chapter. It’s hard though because we are half way though the move with things in both places.

The governer on St. Croix said he may not let anyone fly in to St. Croix for 30 days, which would delay us by almost a month, at which point we are supposed to be in India for work as well as home for Thanksgiving just after.

Our house in St. Croix which we are renting suffered only minor damage, while our friends are missing their roofs. We may even have some of our friends stay in our place. It’s the only way we seem to be able to help since we can’t get there or mail anything at the moment which is incredibly frustrating.

I know we will get through this eventually. The house in Orlando will get fixed, and the island will slowly return to normal. Although power may not be restored in some places there for 6 months or more, our neighborhood there should recover rather quickly since we are close to the hospital and Christiansted. There will be more work there than people to do it in the coming months which is good for the economy. The government confirmed that as they are completely overwhelmed. Help and funds are on their way to rebuild the island.

While we have a lot going on in the interm, we are still thinking about our ultimate goal of owning our own piece of paradise.

At the moment, we are unsure if an immediate build of a new place may be feasible anymore which weighs heavy on our hearts. For one, every month we get behind schedule, and continue to loose rental income, as well as pay to fix the damages caused by Irma, we begin dwindling our cash reserves which will be needed for the build. The second reason we are unsure if the build may be possible as quickly as we planned, is because we fear the cost of construction materials will skyrocket over the next year or two as the islands consume all resources to return to normal and repair the buildings and infrastructure. Skilled labor will also rise as it will be in high demand. This may mean the cost of building will outpace what we can financially spend.

However, all may not be lost.  We now may consider a search to buy a home instead of build once more. Although we originally searched for the last two years as prices rose and inventory dwindled, we think now the opposite may happen. There will be few people considering a move to the Caribbean right now. People will still have to sell their homes in some cases. Many homes may get listed as “fixer uppers” now since the storms came through. And we may just get a better deal buying and remodeling or adding on if necessary rather than building from scratch.

I guess the truth is it’s all in the air at the moment. We have no idea what the future holds for us any longer. The only thing we can do right now is wait and see what happens, take one step at a time to repair the lives we have, finish our move, and help our neighbors as best as possible. We will eventually reassess our situation in the coming days and figure out how to proceed.

One thing is for sure though; we are still planning on staying in the islands, and eventually we will find our own piece of paradise.

Offer Placed on St. Croix Property and Hurricane Irma Aftermath

I officially placed an offer to purchase our first choice property on St. Croix today and went for a celebratory scuba dive in Cane Bay just down the hill from the property. Signed purchase agreement and earnest money are in the hands of our Realtor. I was given a verbal pre-approval for the land loan by Banco Popular the Friday after Irma came through. The person who signs the letters for the pre-approvals lives on St. Thomas which is currently decimated by Hurricane Irma so I don’t have an actual letter in hand.

My Realtor said she spoke with the original listing agent of the property and that the seller would be willing to entertain an offer for the lot, so we know he’s willing to sell it. That’s good because technically the property isn’t listed for sale currently. The listing originally expired 10 years ago when he first had it listed and never got it sold (after the last market crash in 2008.) Now, if we can only agree on the price.  🙂

I met a nice man named Matt today who helped shave a back door that swelled and was unable to be shut from the hurricane we had. I put his card in my little rolodex which is quickly growing of subcontractors and handymen whom I may hire for our build. Other than this little issue, the house has been great. It handled the hurricane wonderfully, although we lost a few trees in the yard. A couple days after the storm our landlord rented a huge rollaway dumpster and we completely filled it (he and I) with downed trees, leaves, sticks, and other vegetation that was brought down from the storm. The property looks as good as new now, minus the two beautiful missing trees that were in the front yard. I really can’t believe just how much we put in that dumpster. There was a TON of yard work to do.

Huge Dumpster of Debris

Fresh Coconut from Our BackyardYesterday, we harvested from our own trees on the property and collected 8 lemons, a bunch of almonds which we now have drying out, and a coconut which I hacked open with a machete and turned into a rum cocktail. We also have a plum tree on the property and a banana tree which has probably 100 bananas that should be ready in about a month. Over the week and a half of being here we were also given a bunch of Carambola (Star Fruit) we’ve been eating for breakfast and Avocados as well, which we turned into fresh guacamole tonight. Last time we were here a few months ago, we were eating mangos, genips and fresh bananas that were gifts as well. One thing is for sure on this island, even if you have no money, it may be impossible to starve with the abundance of fruit and vegetables grown here in people’s back yards. There’s something to be said about a place in which you collect your own water from the sky, and grow several edible items on every piece of land.

Lemons from Our Backyard     Almonds from Our Backyard

There are still people without power 6 days later here on St. Croix, although we got ours back in just a day and a half since we’re on the hospital’s grid. The neighboring islands have sent thousands of people over here for shelter so far, as much of the neighboring islands are uninhabitable at the moment. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruse-lines are actually sending down cruise ships to help evacuate people who were on vacation on some of the islands that were hit, and provide them at least with a little vacation on the ride home. I thought that was pretty cool. One of the best cruises we ever went on was Norwegian.

Last night the storm hit all of our family in Florida (Tampa/St. Petersburg and Orlando). Everyone seemed to fair OK through the storm, although we have a missing fence and some roof damage to our lake house. I haven’t heard anything regarding my other rental properties there, but I assume my management company would have called if there was something significant.

Here are a few pictures of the damage around the island. All in all, not bad considering our island neighbors. We were lucky. I snapped a photo of Ham’s Bluff a day after the hurricane. It looks just as beautiful as ever, and is a constant reminder as to why we’ve moved here. It’s the last photo in the series below.

video

Neighbors House After Some Beautiful Palms Cut Down Boat Washed Up on Rainbow Beach West Shore Chainsaw Fallen Tree Trees on Vans Powerlines Down Our Street Sign is DownHam's Bluff Just a Day or So After the Hurricane

 

 

 

Hurricane Irma Smashes Through The Virgin Islands

Well, we made it through our first hurricane in the Caribbean. Category 5 at that. We got really lucky that the track of the hurricane had shifted North a bit. The eye of the storm passed between St. Thomas and the BVI causing much more damage to those islands.

While I am not sure of the extent of the St. Croix damage since the curfew has not been lifted yet, I know through social media that we have lost many trees, there is much flooding, power is out all over the island, and I’m sure our coastlines have been damaged.

We weren’t able to get the cap off the cistern to get water from it, so we filled the bathtub up before loosing power and also filled the sinks. We’ve also been collecting rain water in buckets from the porches and using that to reserve the water in the sinks and bathtub. We can’t flush like normal because the pumps have no electric to bring up water from the cistern. Without the water we would have a very stinky situation on our hands. As long as it continues to rain while the power is out we should have no issues. We are on the hospital power grid so we should get service first before the rest of the island. I think that will be sometime today.

Last night we ate Spaghetti O’s on the gas stove. It totally makes sense why everyone has gas here rather than electric since the power goes out so often. It’s nice to have a hot meal at a time like this!

After a day and a half with no shower, we decided to go outside in bathing suits today and shower in the rain. It was incredibly refreshing! (And a tad bit fun.)

Not a ton of photos yet since the curfew has kept us at the house, although last night we did chainsaw up the tree that fell in our front yard blocking the road from passage that landed on our neighbor’s van. That was a beautiful tree and now the row of 5 has a missing gap in it.

Other than that, we’ve had no damage to ourselves, the house, or my Jeep (although I saw a tree about to topple over on it yesterday so I moved it up closer to the house during the middle of the storm.)

We kept ourselves busy throughout the day doing random things. I spent 6 hours drawing plans for the house. It’s based on our first choice lot though so if we don’t get it I’ll be redoing everything. I will probably have more time today to work on them. I still have the side and rear elevations to do. At some point I’ll share the drawings.

Most of our friends are without power right now too (I think one managed to keep it) but the good news is no one got hurt. I feel like we’ve been through a right of passage with everyone. The islanders have been incredibly nice, all helping one another and checking in. The sense of community here is much stronger than I’m used to (even when there isn’t a storm.) I guess it’s necessary when you live on a small island.

While the eye of the storm was packing winds of 180MPH, we saw wind gusts upwards of 80-100MPH.

Its headed for our second home in FLorida next, and with the scheduling of the storm’s arrival, looks like it may delay us getting back there a week! Thats no good as we have a lot scheduled right now to finish the move, go to a wedding, and do a site visit for Backwoods Music Festival, as well as rent out the lake house prior to October 1st.

If we can get out and about later, I’ll see if I can get some photos. Right now the cell signal isn’t strong enough to upload the couple that we took. Maybe that will change when the power comes back on!

Hurricane Irma Bearing Down on the Virgin Islands

Before I provide everyone with a Hurricane Irma update, let me catch you up on our very productive day yesterday…

Randall McBeanWe decided to visit our top two properties yesterday with our draftsman Carlos Reyes, and our concrete builder Timothy Francis (Previously spelled Timoty, and definitely pronounced without the H). On the way we met our landlord Randall McBean who is a very nice man who lives in Missouri. He’s here for a reunion and a couple projects he’s got going on the house we’re renting.  He is staying downstairs right now (which is an entire other floor that isn’t part of our lease.)  I guess he also came for the hurricane parties.

When we finally met up with Timothy we drove around to several of his projects in progress, and a few of his finished homes.  He seems not only to be a reputable builder on the island, but an incredibly nice guy.  He spent eight hours with us driving around yesterday.  The quality of his work seemed to be good as well. We didn’t see any cracks in any of the homes walls or driveways on the finished homes. The fact that he answered his phone right away and met with me on a holiday (and also had his guys working at job sites) on the island is definitely above average.  While we were at one of the sites, we came across another excavator, Wilbert Drew.  Timothy said he’s the best on the island. I still hadn’t received a call or text back from Israel (the original guy I talked to and Carlos referred me to) about meeting up on the island since I’ve been here, so I took down Wilbert’s number.Building Project on St. Croix with Retaining Wall

One of Timothy's Build ProjectsAfter we were done looking at Timothy’s projects specifically, we picked up Carlos Reyes and all drove out to the two properties we are considering for purchase.  It’s all in agreement that our first choice is their first choice as well due to the fact you can use more of the property.  However, our second choice is actually even better than we thought, as we realized that our realtor didn’t know the main part of the land was just a little further up the hill, which revealed a large build-able area up on the cliff.  This gave us some great ideas as to how to build a really neat home on that property if we don’t end up with our first choice, but only about .75 of the 2 acres is usable on that property.  The rest is steep hillside and/or cliff which makes for some dramatic views, but doesn’t leave room for gardens, etc.

Building Project on St. Croix

At about the time we finished with Timothy and Carlos, Wilbert was available and done with work, so we drove out again to view the properties with him and get an idea on the time and costs associated with clearing the land and moving dirt on each.  He also agreed that our first choice was the better property.  That’s 4 people total in agreement so we’re pretty confident with that decision. He was also super nice, kept his equipment and himself super clean, and was even critiquing some dirt moving jobs we came upon with precision.  I like all that detail and I think he has won our business as our excavator, especially since Israel didn’t get back in touch with us quickly.  Being responsive is critical for me to stay on schedule.  All in all we spent 8.5 hours working and researching the project with these guys, and we learned a ton.

Rainbow Beach with FriendsFeet in the SandAfterwards we decided to hit up Rhythms at Rainbow Beach for sunset, and then head over to the Lost Dog for a hurricane party.

Hurricane Irma PathHurricane Irma Path

Hurricane Irma. Seriously? Just a few days here and you’re headed this way? It looks like we’re going to get spared from the eye of the storm where the worst winds are, but we are definitely going to be “in” the hurricane.  Power may go out for days (when Hugo came through it was out for 3 months) and there will definitely be downed trees everywhere, and probably some homes that haven’t been up-kept or built cheaply, that are damaged.  We are in a solid poured concrete structure (the way we will build our house) with hurricane clips on the roof.  The windows are jalousie windows most with wood slats so our process for protection is simply to close them up.  We don’t have any ownership interest here yet, so it’s not too concerning for us, but of course we are concerned for all our friends on island who do. We stocked up on PB&J and will have hundreds of gallons of fresh water coming into our cistern from the roof catching the rain water. We will have a bucket and rope for pulling rain water from the cistern if need be to do things like bath and flush toilets if the power is out and the pumps can’t pump water. Candles and lighters also are on hand. I think we’re ready to ride out the storm which should hit in the next 18-24 hours. We are supposed to go home on Saturday, but now it is looking like that may be impossible. Not necessarily due to the damage here, but the fact that the path has the hurricane headed to Florida and we would basically be flying through it to go home, or into it right about that time.  We may have to wait until it passes Florida completely before we can fly home.

I snapped this photo of our neighbors house next door.

All in all though, I don’t think anyone should worry about us, we should be just fine.  I’ll try to get some footage of the hurricane and possible aftermath in the coming days, but I’m not sure when I will be able to update the blog again.  By the way, at the time of this writing I was just notified it was upgraded from a CAT 4 to a CAT 5 with 175 MPH sustained winds.  Wonderful.

Right now, it’s the calm before the storm.

Calm before the Storm

Seeking the Perfect Land Lot on St. Croix

Today was a good day. We started at K-Mart to grab a few things for the house, and then headed to our favorite spot on the island, Norma’s Domino Club in the rain forest. At this place, the pigs drink beer. No joke. After a couple of drinks ourselves, we headed to the West End to take a look at a few properties that were on our list and meet Doane, our Realtor. We parked at a spot on the beach to wait for her at the end of the of the road leading from the rain forest.  Unfortunately the properties out on the West side were very vertical, hillside, which would make it hard to build. Although the views were incredible and the sunsets would be amazing. We proceeded then to follow Doane to the North shore to take a look at a couple more, one of which isn’t listed on the MLS.

Jeep in the SandThat’s the great thing about having a realtor like Doane – I know I’ve talked about this lady in multiple posts now as one of the best realtors out there who goes out of her way, but really she is! She showed us a lot that used to be on the market back in 2009, of which she knows the owner.  She had contacted him before to sell off other lots when they weren’t listed, and got them sold to her buyers successfully.  She kept saying “it’s exactly what you’re looking for. This is the one.” and we think she was right.  The thing is, there isn’t much on the market right now, so having an “in” is really helping to find what we’re looking for.

Mt. PleasantAt least out of all the properties we looked at today, her “not listed” property is our prime choice.  It’s the top crest of a hill off the North shore, so there is a lot of gentle slope for a great build (unlike steep cliffs which cost a lot from an excavation standpoint.)  The property will be great for both a main house and a guest house with a large outdoor pool area – and room for a future horse barn if we end up getting a horse.  It’s a total of 1.6 acres, which is a little smaller than I originally thought we wanted but the location and views are superb.  You can literally see the North coast line AND the South shore from the top of the hill.  360 degree views of the ocean!  It could be an incredible space.

Mt. PleasantWe left each other today with Doane saying she would text the owner’s previous Realtor. She’s planning to strike up a conversation to see where his head’s at, and if he’s still looking to sell it. Will the owner be reasonable from a pricing stand point? To be continued…

Shaleece Wins!

Our Official Move to St. Croix

Today is the day. We arrived in St. Croix as official residents. But first, before I talk about that, here’s a quick update from the last couple of days.

Kaden Going to St. CroixOver the last week we have been frantically packing and going through YEARS of stuff, each item deciding whether A) we really need it anymore and B) if we do, whether it is cheaper to ship it or rebuy it, once we’ve arrive on island.  Our other dog, Kaden, finally made it to our going pile.

My car officially sold to a nice man in Bradenton, and she now has a home in a covered garage. I think the A7 found a great home, and I got my full asking price. I couldn’t be happier about that transaction and her new owner.

We also found a good home for BC, our 25 year old snake whom I’ve had forever. Our friends, who are really into reptiles (seriously they have enough to be a mini pet store in their house) have volunteered to care for him. Brittany and Cameron already had another ball python and were surprised to see just how big BC was. Needless to say, I don’t think we could have found a better home. (Fun fact: BC stands for Billy and Christopher, named after my brother and I as kids… but now it very well could stand for his new owner’s names, Brittany and Cameron). 

We literally have purged 50% of all the things we own. All of the things we kept, we are shipping via USPS. 16 boxes total so far, and we probably have another 10 to ship when we return for the next part of our move. Pricing out our options, UPS wanted $900 for the same box that USPS wanted $90 for, which includes $50 insurance and 3 Day priority shipping with tracking. When it comes to the Virgin Islands, USPS can’t be beat for non-furniture items. Our total move looks like it will cost us less than $1,800.

Yesterday, we had our giant yard sale. We made $1,700!!! Incredibly, it looks like we are paying for our move by having sold all the crap we couldn’t bring with us anyways. A very special thank you to my mom, Sue Royall, and our good friend Valerie Whitehurst Kuliberda who really killed it for us, and assisted us with the sale. We worked from 5am to 3pm and got rid of so much stuff.

This morning, we got up early and headed to the airport. We were tired and I think it shows in the photos. Construction at MCO meant ridiculous security lines today. Even though checkin was smooth, we missed our flight. That never happens. The gate door shut in front of us. The great people at JetBlue however, (shoutout to Di at the Just Ask Desk) took care of us, as they always do. Even though I had to book another airline and pay for the tickets, JetBlue (via my Twitter account) was willing to give us that as a credit, so our net out of pocket ($450) was credited in a combination of points for future flights and a cash refund, even though they aren’t affiliated with the other airline we booked on. They are the best. I always recommend JetBlue. And, I always recommend reaching out to any airline via public social media if you have an issue to get it taken care of. (Disclosure: I am long on JetBlue’s stock.)

Cape AirNow, I’m not sure if you’ve ever flown Cape Air whom we booked for our second flight, but they more or less give you a plane and you fly it yourself.  It wasn’t quite the smallest aircraft we’ve flown in (Shaleece and I were in a single prop 4-seater when we flew into the Amazon in Venezuela), but it definitely was an adventure. This is not how we normally get into St. Croix, but it was the last flight of the day and we had to jump on it. Shaleece took the helm (she’s always wanted to be a pilot) and landed us safely. I’m still unsure how she landed so smoothly while looking at my camera.

St. Croix from the AirShaleece Flying Cape Air

Since the second flight was a bit later than the first connection, we arrived 2 hours behind schedule. That means we were going to miss our mattress store appointment and be sleeping on the tile floor tonight. No matter though, our realtor Doane Dariah came to the rescue again and went out of her way, letting the delivery people in early for us! I seriously can’t recommend this woman enough!

Rupert RossRupert Ross, our awesome friend on the island arrived to pick us up in our new Jeep. He is amazing and helped pick up the Jeep from port when it was delivered on the Norma H. (A car delivery service between St Thomas and St Croix.)  I had a small issue with Norma H in that they lost one of the two $400 keys, but they found it a couple of days later, and we can pick it up on Wednesday… that is if Hurricane Irma doesn’t delay them further.

So let’s talk about that for a minute. Our first few days as official residents and we have a huge hurricane headed towards us. Not sure why, but we don’t really have a worry in our minds about it, with the exception that we may get rain our first few days in paradise as we try to take care of a bunch of moving errands. This blog may get interesting in the next few days.

The house is much nicer than we actually expected, believe it or not. It’s very large and has a huge outdoor balcony with multiple seating areas outside. The dogs will love this place. There is no AC (but the breeze is fairly cool/nice and we will probably get a small unit in the bedrooms), but other than that this place was a winner from the start. Although I have no idea why you would ever need it on this island, there was a surprise sauna in our master bathroom. Cool, I guess.

Tomorrow we go to look at the final list of land parcels we’ve narrowed it down to with Doane! We can’t wait!