Sometime post-9/11: I am unsure of what about the events of September 11, 2001 brought this on, but suddenly this hurricane survivor went back into time…
I am in a radio station. In the United States Virgin Islands, that amounted to a small ‘house on a hill’. WSTA, the “Lucky 13”. The moniker could not have been more appropriate. Actually, I was in the bowels of the Atlanta, GA metro system, waiting for a delayed train. Listening to the placating announcement from a woman with silvery edges to her voice, announcing the time. Letting us know that two trains were on the way.
Thinking how lucky I was that someone was at the controls, in control. And I am back at the radio station, where we, several members of a skeleton crew, moved as one. The ‘leader’ had blended into the rest of us, and we strategically moved from place to place, keeping the yaw of hurricane Hugo off this building that faced the shore.
As we pressed against the plexiglass of the main studio window, we looked at each other and remarked that at the wind velocities we were experiencing, a drinking straw could not only shatter the bowed plexiglass, but could be the cause of the utter destruction of our command center. The air conditioning unit that had been blown into the transmitter room left another way for the storm to broach our little fortress. We took turns holding a board against it. When muscles twittered to numbness, there was another shoulder to place against the board.
How long would this go on? Until it was done. No control but the resolve to keep broadcasting, taking turns at the mike, sharing distress calls. No call screening, just live on the air. People out there in that blackness with the occasional spark of orange (was lightning on the ground now? were we having tornadoes too?), without the 7 that we had, perhaps with a child, perhaps with an illness, perhaps elderly, perhaps… alone.
We were lucky. As the front door blew open and our satellite dish began a drunken walk down the steep (you think I joke? 45 degrees!) driveway, we formed a human chain and pulled it back up, finally resting it inside our tiny vestibule. Through the night this went on, until we had no choice. A well-aimed missile punctured a gray box outside, and knowing that we had to be able to fight another day, we took a hasty vote and silenced the station.
Later, people would tell us that that is when they felt completely alone. The voice of WSTA had ‘gone dark’, as they say in radio, but we continued into the wee hours of the morning, trying to protect what we could so that we could help when the sun rose. As it turns out, it was quite awhile before we could get on the air again. A team of engineers, a hair dryer and dumb luck, but we were soon able to go live.
No phones. Telecommunications gone. All 3 Virgin Islands. We were an American territory with no way to ask for help or answer a call. I noticed a fax machine and plugged a phone into the line. Dial tone! I began to place calls, and we were on our way back. From nothing.
That is all; please give where and when you can. There is nothing that can come close to the horrific (an overused, but most apt word in these times) situation that befell the thousands who are still unaccounted for. In the words of a T-Shirt issued following a 1995 hurricane, “We are coming back.”