The hurricanes came and then the Iowans arrived

March 02, 2019

Who Will Come?
(Hurricane Maria at St. Croix  2017)
The island yawns to daybreak’s gentle beams, Yet Crucians wake to grief they can’t convey—Their homes now graveyards of disheveled dreams, Maria’s wrath whirled paradise away. Once tidy centers of a family’s heart, Both homes and treasures stolen in a flash, And years of loving toil now ripped apart, Fond memories buried deep in mounds of trash. A man of fragile health leans on a cane, A widow twists her hands in grim despair, Their tears recall the harsh torrential rain, And lips petition heaven with a prayer. Yet questions pound like an incessant drum: We cannot help ourselves, but who will come? 

—Pastor Lori Shannon, Manning, Iowa

Irma and Maria, two category 5 hurricanes pounded St. Croix, a small 26-mile wide island, in September 2017. As a part of the United States Virgin Islands, St. Croix lies just south of Puerto Rico which received more disaster press coverage. Devastation affected hundreds of homes, businesses, and churches so Lutheran Social Services immediately contracted with FEMA to address the disaster. On February 9, a team of fifteen Iowans—from Gray to Wilton, Lake Park to Bloomfield—flew to St. Croix to help with disaster response.

In the aftermath of the hurricanes, many island families had to leave their homes to find temporary housing in St. Croix or head to the U.S. to stay with friends or family. Dozens of homes have blue tarps on the roof and are waiting for teams to help. There were 56 houses in the queue when the Iowa team arrived that needed roofs and other home repairs completed.

One group from the team was assigned to work on the home of Henry and Teresa Williams. Half of their roof blew over on the other roof section causing debris to fall on Henry. While being checked out at the hospital for his injuries he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Henry is now taking chemo treatments. For him, the hurricanes were both a blessing and trauma. The Williams have been renting an apartment for $1,000 per month while waiting their turn to have their home restored.

Interior work on the “to do” list included removal of old drywall, painting the tongue/groove ceiling and exterior trim on the gables, removing and then installing new windows, doors and finally sheetrock.

A second group was assigned a roofing project for the Lima family. Heavy rafters were cut to fit with strenuous lifting needed to place them on the roof to be attached. T-111 was put onto the rafters and then tar paper and purlins were installed.

The group stayed at the Sunny Isle Baptist School which was closed 10-years-ago when the local oil refinery closed and people left the island. BP has now purchased the refinery and brought in dozens of laborers who have rented all available apartments. 

In addition to their work, the team enjoyed beach time, a sunset cruise, a tour around the island and visit to Point Udall, the easternmost point of the U.S. where a sundial monument marks the location where American soil first sees the sunrise, snorkeling at Buck Island Reef National Monument, church on the beach and a jazz concert near the cruise ship dock.

The hurricanes came but so have waves of work teams (the Iowa team was #18) to help Crucians slowly return to normalcy. For the 15 Iowans, helping make a difference in the lives of the Williams and Lima families, while having fun in the sun, was a God-given opportunity for which they feel richly blessed.

Team members:

  • Amanda Burmeister, Coon Rapids
  • Dave Duffe, Wilton 
  • Amy Fuson, Indianola
  • Katherine/Bill Howell, Coon Rapids
  • Martha McCallister, Wilton
  • Kevin/Lynnette Moore, Pleasant Hill
  • Beverly Nolte, Des Moines
  • Judy Olson, Gray
  • Linda Rowe, Bloomfield
  • Lori Shannon, Manning
  • Gary/Judy Taber, Lake Park
  • Nicki Wiederstein, Audubon