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As Hurricane Maria devastates islands, anxious waiting for North Fork family

09/21/2017 12:22 PM |

The phone call lasted barely 10 seconds. But it provided the desperate sigh of relief Mark Solomon needed.

For more than a day, Mr. Solomon anxiously awaited word to find out his daughter’s fate as she hunkered down more than 1,600 miles away in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria began pounding the island Tuesday, less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma had spared it major damage by passing just to the north. By Wednesday, communication across the island was largely out.

At his part-time home in East Marion that he’s owned for 35 years, Mr. Solomon could only wait to hear word, a situation many in America are facing who have relatives in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Finally, late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Solomon’s daughter Wendy, 46, called via a FEMA satellite phone to alert her family she was OK.

“They’re handing out the phone to everybody,” Mr. Solomon said. “The island is going to be without power and communication for a while, she said. Power poles are down. The grid is down. It’s impassable right now.”

On Wednesday, Reuters reported: “Maria was predicted to be the worst storm to hit St. Croix, home to about half of the U.S. Virgin Island’s 103,000 residents, since Hugo, a Category 4 storm, in 1989.”

Mr. Solomon’s daughter has lived in St. Croix for 18 years, he said.

By Thursday morning, Hurricane Maria had been upgraded back to a Category 3 after briefly falling to Category 2 over Puerto Rico’s mountains, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the damage to the islands and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean was devastating, according to media reports. The storm’s center was just north of the Dominican Republic as of 11 a.m. Thursday.

All of Puerto Rico is without power and it may stay that way for months before it’s fully restored, the New York Times reported.

In St. Croix, the power was turned off in advance of the storm across the island, Mr. Solomon said, to prevent live wires from sparking fires when utility poles inevitably fell. His daughter lives on the east end of the island facing the south toward the Caribbean Sea.

Her journey to St. Croix began nearly two decades ago with a vacation. She had been working in advertising, a grueling grind of 18-hour workdays.

“She really needed a break,” her father said. “She went to visit a friend and said, ‘I’m never going to work that hard again.’ ”

She quickly fell in love with the island, and then her landlord whom she had rented a house from at the time. She married her husband, Tom Rodenhaver, on the beach at Saint John and have lived there ever since. Mr. Solomon said his daughter is “like the mayor” of the island. She’ll still visit the North Fork frequently and stays for a few weeks or a month at a time in Greenport.

“She says [Greenport] is very close to the life in St. Croix,” he said.

Mr. Rodenhaver owns a restaurant on the island and Ms. Solomon runs the website gotostcroix.com. A 24/7 webcam of Christiansted Harbor on the website was down as of Thursday afternoon. Text on the homepage began: “Here on St. Croix, the largest of the USVI, just 40 miles south of Irma’s fury, we were fortunate to have been spared.”

Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria changed that.

joew@timesreview.com

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