Springfield native Drew Kerr is bracing for another hurricane in St. John. The Kickapoo grad took over a business his father started in the tropical island, and has lived there since 2013. For four years it was paradise. For the past few weeks, it’s been treacherous.
He weathered Hurricane Irma in a friend’s house and took video of the flood waters gushing outside, rising halfway up his door.
He survived, but much of the infrastructure on the island didn’t.
Businesses have been wiped out. Cell phone service is spotty. Electricity is scarce. Family members said he wasn’t sure how he’d charge his phone once the battery died Tuesday.
Communicating from the island to the mainland can be done through satellite phone and Wi-Fi, but the congestion you have to wade through to use them can be prohibitive.
It took Kerr four days to get word back to his sister, Breana Eoff, that he was okay after Irma decimated the island. He borrowed someone’s cell phone and sent her a text, ending one of the worst stretches of Breana’s life.
“Terrible,” she said. “A lot of tears. Pretty much just an emotional roller coaster up and down wondering are they ok, do they have enough water, do they have enough food, is anybody hurt? Your mind just constantly is racing.”
As Maria heads toward the tiny island, Kerr sought an escape and booked a flight back to the U.S. The ports closed on St. John, though, and he couldn’t make the flight. He would’ve been home Monday night – now he’s bracing for another round.
“For the most part he's more prepared for this one, however all of his friends have evacuated,” Eoff said.
She isn't just sitting back and worrying. She's helping from thousands of miles away. She and a friend created a Facebook group called "St. John Roll Call Safe from Irma" which 6,000 people used to try to connect with loved ones.
"People posting over and over again has anyone seen my mom or my dad, they're elderly, my dad needs Dialysis, we haven't heard from him,” Eoff said. “People just frantic wondering where their family is."
She set up another one for Hurricane Maria just yesterday and already nearly 900 people have joined. One member of the group created a website where people could check themselves as safe.
“Going there and visiting and knowing what a great place it is and how wonderful the people are there, there's no words,” she said. “You feel absolutely helpless sitting here, and there's nothing you can do except send money.”
She’s also worried about donations getting to the right place, and says that well-meaning philanthropists can send money that never sees the island. St. John is a U.S. territory, but the Virgin Islands are split between the United States and Britain. She says members of her group have worked with the St. John Community Foundation and St. John Rescue.
She and her seven-year-old son, Aiden Eoff, have cherished updates they’ve gotten from Drew. Drew and his nephew have talked about soccer and what they’ve been up to when they speak on the phone. Aiden summed up his uncle’s experience better than anyone could.
"A really hard time."