The once-idyllic view from Eugene Connor’s home on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is now a window on the crushing power of Hurricane Irma.
All he and his family can see is the the destruction the Category 5 hurricane left behind when it roared through last week.
Trees that once hugged the hillside have toppled over and are bare after devastating winds from Irma. Below, in the valley, is the rubble from homes that – like theirs – were destroyed.
“Obviously, it had a great view and, you know, things were great for four years but, you know, when this hit, it was a bad location,” Connor said.
Connor, his wife, Michelle Cox, and their 5-year-old daughter, Cynthia, hunkered down last week as Irma tore through St. Thomas.
The storm ravaged islands in the Caribbean, claiming at least 44 lives in the US and British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, Cuba, French territories, Haiti and Barbuda.
“I just knew they’d be in trouble”
During the storm, the house began crumbling around them. Through tears, Cox recalled how she was stuffing towels in the rafters to keep water out when she received an unexpected phone call.
“I got this phone call from this number I never even saw before,” Cox said.
John Parr, who knew the family’s landlords, was on the line and asked if they needed help.
“We didn’t know him and had no idea who he was,” Connor said.
From across the valley, Parr had been watching their home as conditions deteriorated. Having worked on projects at the house before, he knew it wouldn’t be able to withstand Irma’s strength.
“I called Michelle and talked to them, and they were kind of hesitant to leave the house,” Parr said. “So, I told them this is going to get real bad. You guys need to think about getting out of here.”
He gave Connor and Cox five minutes to decide whether they wanted his help and, shortly afterward, Parr said, they called.
Parr and his 15-year-old son, Dalton, got in the car and crossed the valley as Irma clobbered the island.
If Parr hadn’t come, “I really believe we would’ve been dead,” Connor said. “So, we’re very grateful.”
Cox sees Parr as “just the bravest guy in the whole world – him and his son.”
“I mean, height of the storm, trees are falling down, raining coming down like crazy… he just drove in and out to get us,” she said.
When asked why he would risk his and his son’s lives for strangers, Parr told CNN, “I just knew they’d be in trouble if they stayed there. I didn’t even put any thought into it. I just went and did it.”
The couple and their daughter are staying in Parr’s home while they – and countless others throughout the Caribbean – attempt to rebuild some semblance of the life they had before.
Parr first came to St. Thomas in 1990 to help rebuild after Hurricane Hugo.
“And, I went through Marilyn,” he said, referring to the 1995 storm. “That was a bad one, but this was worse than anything I’ve seen.”
Relief efforts, rebuilding underway
President Donald Trump has signed a disaster declaration for the US Virgin Islands, unlocking $223 million in emergency federal funding, and White House officials have said he plans to visit, though the dates for the trip have not been set.
Nearly 900 Marines are in the US Virgin Islands to aid relief efforts, according to Col. Farrell Sullivan, commanding officer of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Their focus is on getting food and water to residents as well as clearing roads and helping restore power.
“Everybody’s just pitching in to help one another,” Parr said. “It’s just going to be a long, long road to get back to normal.”
Cox and Connor said they were unsure about rebuilding.
“Our family, our extended family, friends that we made and shared things with for years – we want to stay with them, and rebuild and restart our lives, but I’m scared,” Cox said. “We don’t have a place of our own. It’s hard to get food, water, gas. It took us three hours just to get ice.”