Emergency managers said the trip on board the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant was intended to help those in the path of Hurricane Maria.
The eye of the storm is forecast for a near pass, south of St. Croix, but associated bands of rain and wind extend far enough to touch St. John with tropical storm — possibly hurricane — force winds by early Wednesday morning.
About 50 Coral Bay residents gathered in the parking lot of the Paradise Realty building to hear from Coast Guard Chief Michael Perez and FEMA disaster coordinator John Covell.
“These storms are unpredictable at best, so if you or your family wish to evacuate, either speak to me or to any of the other Coast Guard members. We’ll be shuttling people to the cutter up until thirteen hundred hours. One o’clock, p.m. for non military folks,” Perez said.
About 40 minutes later, sitting by the small finger pier behind the town’s fire station, the chief said there was some interest, but not much.
“Right now, I’ve got about seven people and a dog,” Perez said.
High school senior Tyreke Morton, a student at Gifft Hill School, was trying to make it eight. He stopped by the fire station to ask what to do once ariving in Puerto Rico, because he’d heard the airport had closed in anticipation of the latest storm.
“I was trying to get on the boat today,” Morton said. “This is my last year of school and I’m trying to take my SATs by October. And since there’s no place here I can take the SATs, I’m trying to get to the states.”
Sharon Coldren, director of the Coral Bay Community Council said because the wind’s direction with the approaching storm is expected from the east instead of from the west — as was with Irma — places that were safe last time may not be safe again. She urged those who wanted to stay to write their names and addresses on slips of paper and hand them to a volunteer. That would allow search and rescue crews to concentrate on those believed to be lost, instead of those who are hard to reach.
Covell tried some friendly persuasion.
“I understand,” he said, that people might not want to move. His own family was in the path of Hurricane Sandy, in New Jersey.
“For this storm we want people to know your personal safety is key. We want you to know where you are going and that you have three to four days of food and water there. Sheltering is key for this storm. We don’t know what this storm will do. We know it’s a bad storm,” he said.
Volunteer Jane Isreal stood by with a plastic storage bag as people jotted down their information. “About 60 people said they’d stay on Sunday,” she said. Several more said so after the Monday meeting.
Coldren offered some advice for those who wished to stay. If homes were left damaged in the previous storm, residents were encouraged to visit St. John’s two designated shelters or check the status of a third, temporary shelter being arranged with help from the military at the former Guy Benjamin Elementary School.
Those with neighbors whose homes stayed sturdy after Irma could arrange to stay with them until the strongest winds and rain pass.
St. John Administrator Camille Paris, Jr. spoke briefly to a reporter as he pulled up near the fire station while making his daily rounds throughout the extended weather emergency.
“Everybody knows what they had to do for Irma,” Paris said. That advice should also apply in anticipation of Hurricane Maria.
“Prepare yourself. Don’t take it lightly,” he said.