Days after 185 mph winds slammed into her childhood home, hurling yachts into front yards and transforming a lush landscape into what could be mistaken for a desolate winter, Erika Field still hasn’t heard from her parents.
The couple left Maryland for the promise of paradise in the U.S. Virgin Islands more than 30 years ago. Their home in St. Thomas, now lies in ruin.
“We're used to hurricanes in the Virgin Islands, this is nothing like we've ever seen before,” Field said in an interview Saturday. “There are no words to describe the damage that has taken place in my hometown.”
Field now lives in Kensington, Md. – first leaving her home on the east end of St. Thomas for college in Virginia.
But her parents remained in the U.S. territory, running the sail and canvas repair business her father bought for her mother as a wedding present 35 years ago.
Field still hasn’t directly heard from her parents, Chris and Evelyne Nye, as 1,000 U.S. Marines are now in the Caribbean to support relief efforts for the storm. The Pentagon dispatched the U.S.S. Wasp, a Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship, to specifically aid the Virgin Islands.
But she knows her mom and dad survived – because of a single text message.
“The last direct contact I had with my parents, we were able to FaceTime, before the eye wall hit,” Field said. “I told them it was coming since with the networks; no one was covering what was happening to the Virgin Islands.”
There was no contact between them for 23 hours.
“Then I get a text message from a number I don't have saved; it's not a Virgin Islands area code either,” Field said. “It reads, ‘Hi Erika, your parents are fine, and the house is fine. This is the neighbor, Drew. Phone service is bad.’”
Field now searches through social media for photos or videos of her old neighborhood overlooking a tropical lagoon, cars flipped in what now looks like a war zone.
She fears as millions brace for the worst in Florida, the mainland will forget that thousands of American citizens already survived Irma in the Caribbean – as a Category 5 hurricane.
“The president specifically mentioned the Virgin Islands in his weekly address, and it moved me to tears, knowing that he recognized our home as the first American landfall for this storm,” Field said.
At least 20 people died in the region, with the roof torn from the St. Thomas hospital where Field was born. The hurricane claimed four lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Is our suffering worth any less than those of Rockport or Corpus Christi?” Field said. “We are Americans, too.”