Starting Over on Roosevelt Island

October 18, 2017

To the Editor:

 

I grew up on Roosevelt Island and I just recently returned; it wasn’t by choice, but I’m happy to be here. 

 

My wife and I were living on the small Island of Vieques, eight miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. On Monday, September 18, 17 hours before hurricane Maria decimated the island, I was able to evacuate with our 6-year-old son. 

 

My wife stayed behind to watch our pets and the homes and pets of other residents who had left prior to the last hurricane, Irma. At 3:30 a.m. on Sept 20, she finally called. Both the front and back windows had blown in (some were hurricane-proof, some were metal). Jennifer had dragged in the mattress and our pets into the bathroom and  was holding the door closed with her feet. She said it sounded like bombs going off outside. From the noise of the wind, she assumed the car was no longer in the driveway; it had probably blown away. She said the storm was in the house, and then the phone died. 

 

Our island was hit with a Category 4 storm. Day one after the storm, a few people had local cell service, they were posting pictures on facebook, and then the cell tower batteries ran out. It took four days before I finally heard about Jennifer. Someone from our barrio had been evacuated by Medevac and their nephew had given a ride to a girl with short blonde hair and a dog named Lady. That was good enough for me; she was alive, and I began the Vieques Safe List. 

 

People were passing slips of paper to pilots with their names and phone numbers to call; satellite photos had pictures with names painted on roofs; evacuees gave longer lists of people they had seen. Six days after the storm, I was fortunate to receive a SAT phone call. Jennifer is still on Vieques. They finally have water, but there is no power and there are limited communications. Food and gas are infrequent, but you need cash to make a purchase. Without internet, the only bank does everything by hand, until they run out of cash. 

 

Yesterday, after three weeks, the Red Cross finally arrived to deliver food – a one-day’s supply. We had been well stocked, and so are the friends that she is staying with, but Jen has been helping those much less fortunate, and I hope she doesn’t run out. People with wooden homes are now living under tarps. Hopefully she will fly out within the next week. Everything is gone and we will start over. Our son is already enrolled in first grade at PS/IS 217. Please consider donating to our gofundme account www.gofundme.com/bretandjen.

 

Bret Itskowitch

 

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