Hurricane Irma, Long After The Storm: A Westport Native Reports

“News of St. John” is a blog about St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. Sort of an “06880” for 00830.

Since September — when Hurricane Irma devastated much of the Caribbean — “News of St. John” has had plenty to blog about.

So when blogmaster Jenn Manes described “A Very Powerful Story About Hurricane Irma and St. John” as “the most powerful article” she has read about the disaster, readers took notice.

Writer Devin O’Neil watched from a distance as 200-mile-an-hour winds battered the island where he grew up.

But O’Neil also has Westport ties. He writes:

My fraternal twin brother Sean and I were 5 years old when our mom Christie decided she was tired of commuting from Westport, Connecticut, to New York City. So in December 1985 she and her boyfriend bought a 41-foot sailboat named Yahoo. We packed everything we owned into 19 duffel bags, and headed south.

St. John, half of which is covered by Virgin Islands National Park, offered singular beauty—and plenty of places to anchor our new floating home. Mom took a job as a landscaper in Fish Bay and eventually got her real estate license.

Devon O’Neil (right) with his brother Sean and mom Christie. (Photo/Steve Simonsen Photography)

Sean and I fell in with a rat pack of kids who congregated after school to play tackle football, catch tarantulas and lizards, and crawl under barroom floors in search of quarters. We grew up boogie boarding and surfing on the south shore. One day we took turns reeling in a 350-pound shark, next door in the British Virgin Islands.

Fish Bay sounds nothing like Compo Beach.

Devon writes lovingly of his carefree childhood, and movingly of the storm: the frightening fear of living through it, and what he saw when he returned 2 months later. (Spoiler alert: Richard Branson compared the damage to a nuclear strike.)

It’s a long piece. But — long after Hurricane Irma has faded from our mainland consciousness — this strong story by a Westport native is well worth reading. Click here for the full link.

(O’Neil’s story was originally printed in Outside Magazine. Extremely alert “06880” reader Regina Masterson spotted it on “News of St. John.”)

One small part of Hurricane Irma’s impact on St. John, US Virgin Islands.

4 responses to “Hurricane Irma, Long After The Storm: A Westport Native Reports

  1. Bill Boyd (Staples '66)

    Read the full story from Outside magazine…very well done and informative.

  2. I recently returned from the Virgin Islands, not a vacation, to check on friends and colleagues in the aftermath of Irma and Maria. I was able to connect with Tom Zurich, a Staples grad from the 70s, who rode out Irma at his Tortola home with his wife, Jessica, and their 18 month old infant. They took turns holding the door shut as it bulged in the wind. They survived, but not everyone did. Here is summary (link) of what I saw and heard:

  3. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    It is reassuring to read that St. John is slowly coming back following the devastation and havoc wreaked by Hurricanes Irma and Marie. My heart has been heavy with sadness for this paradise, its people, flora and fauna. At last, perhaps I can consider visiting once again, as I had for the past 6 years up to this year.
    This account of what happened and how things are slowly being repaired and rebuilt – along with the irreparable losses – is deeply appreciated.