‘It’s this weird déjà vu’: St. John residents brace for Hurricane Maria

Irma did significant damage to buildings on St. John.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Irma did significant damage to buildings on St. John.

Hurricane Irma wiped out Siobhan Soleil Mulvey’s apartment and heavily damaged the St. John bar where she worked. On Tuesday, as a second storm, Hurricane Maria, churned toward the US Virgin Islands, she wondered how much more she — and the island — could take.

“We are doing it all over again,” she said by phone from Puerto Rico, where she plans to wait out the Category 5 storm. “It’s this weird déjà vu. The force of these storms is like nothing we have ever seen.”

Mulvey, a New York native who has lived on St. John, the smallest of the three islands, for half a decade, said when the first hurricane hit earlier this month, decimating trees and taking down buildings and homes, she was hiding in a stairwell at a friend’s restaurant.


She kept her eyes closed for what felt like forever, she said, as winds and rains whipped through the normally tranquil community and battered the area.

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“I wasn’t ever afraid for my life, necessarily,” she said. “It was just one of those things where it was the longest waiting game. I’ve never wished so hard for time to pass more quickly.”

When the storm cleared, the island was badly damaged. While some residents were evacuated, others started to clear the streets of debris and help congregate food and supplies. Things were moving slowly, but Mulvey said people remained positive and kept their sights on restoring the island by working together.

But when news came down last week that yet another storm could have devastating effects on the Caribbean islands, Mulvey knew she and a group of friends had to make a decision.

Their options were slim: They could stay on St. John and take their chances, or they could head to Puerto Rico, which is now expected to be hit ‘‘with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations,’’ the territory’s governor said.


“Do we bunker down for a [hurricane] that might hit Puerto Rico a little harder, or bunker down and worry about infrastructure and already existing debris that’s lying around on St. John?” she said.

The group of friends chose the former and Monday boarded a boat for Puerto Rico. They’re staying in Luquillo, at another friend’s home, which is made of concrete.

“We feel really safe,” she said.

With nothing to do but wait and see, Mulvey said she’s anxious to continue the recovery and relief efforts. She knows Hurricane Maria will probably be another setback for the island of St. John and surrounding islands, but for her, it’s not enough to keep her from going back.

“It’s really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.


But, Mulvey added, “We are St. Johnians and we are a resilient place, and we have to roll with the punches, no matter how bleak the outcome may be.”

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.