Lake City meets ‘Love City’

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  • Courtesy photo Carlin McAnally, a 2008 Lake City High graduate who has lived on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the past six years, stands at a friend’s home that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. All of the debris is from homes.

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    Courtesy photo The roof of the local school in St. John was torn off by Hurricane Irma.

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    Courtesy photo The only spot St. John residents could receive cell service on the island was in front of Ronnie's Pizza.

  • Courtesy photo Carlin McAnally, a 2008 Lake City High graduate who has lived on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the past six years, stands at a friend’s home that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. All of the debris is from homes.

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    Courtesy photo The roof of the local school in St. John was torn off by Hurricane Irma.

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    Courtesy photo The only spot St. John residents could receive cell service on the island was in front of Ronnie's Pizza.

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff Writer

When Carlin McAnally emerged from Hurricane Irma, she saw St. John residents in bathtubs with mattresses over them, white faces, mangled homes, snapped palm trees and boats thrown ashore.

"It looked like a 'Walking Dead' episode — mass destruction," said the 2008 Lake City High graduate who has lived on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John for the past six years and is a bartender there.

"Entire walls and roofs of buildings were gone. People you normally see smiling had white faces, hugging you because they were thankful just to be alive."

McAnally, 28, and her boyfriend, Jose Lugo, were taken in by other residents on the island in a safer location during the devastation.

"When you see people who lost everything, it makes you feel guilty because you didn't have that experience," she told The Press in a phone interview Wednesday. "It all happened in 36 hours. I've experienced snowstorms and floods in Idaho, but that's nothing compared to what the hurricane did."

McAnally said at the place they stayed during the hurricane, they watched power lines come down, palm trees snap and the power went out in the first hour.

Irma ravaged St. John, nicknamed "Love City," last Tuesday night through Thursday afternoon. During that time, residents were put on lockdown notice and, if they were caught breaking curfew, they'd be arrested for their safety, McAnally said.

McAnally boarded a boat with other evacuees on Monday, leaving her home behind for an American Red Cross shelter on the island of St. Croix. It was a numb feeling, she said, not knowing when she'll return.

"You're leaving your family," she said. "It's like looking at somebody in need who has a broken arm, but you can't do anything and have to walk away."

McAnally said she gave the keys to her apartment to three homeless women when she left, not expecting to have her belongings whenever she returns.

"We told them, 'Everything in the apartment is yours and, if you don't want it, donate it,'" McAnally said. "When we come back, we will not come back to have our stuff. We'll come back because we want to."

McAnally said all she left with were the clothes in her suitcase and her dogs.

She said she doesn't expect to return to St. John for several months. In the meantime, she's in limbo about the days ahead.

"Priorities — getting people to safety, fixing homes and water supplies — need to be dealt with before restaurants re-open," she said. "People are not worried about businesses opening tomorrow. They're worried about people being safe and getting their loved ones to safety."

McAnally said she's grasping at the glimmers of hope to cope with the destruction. Before evacuating St. John, she witnessed people rallying to help each other.

"Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has helped," she said. "It's wonderful to be a part of that."

Restaurants that weren't damaged as much are giving out free food to those in need. Other restaurant owners whose businesses were destroyed grabbed what food they could before Irma and are donating it to folks.

McAnally is thankful for the shelter where she's staying.

"Everybody is so sweet," she said. "It's humbling to be cared for with a warm meal, be able to charge your cellphone and walk your dog without worrying if a power line is alive or dead. We're just taking it day by day to try to get to the states and go see family."

McAnally said seeing evacuees at shelters during other natural disasters is one thing, but it's surreal that she's now in the same boat.

"You never actually think that it will be your face on the camera," she said.

She said residents are also grateful that, as bad as the devastation was, it would have been even worse if the hurricane had lasted longer with lower wind speeds.

"I couldn't fathom it being any worse than it is now," McAnally said.

She said bringing Love City back will take time, but with that also comes hope.

"It will wake a while and a lot of manpower, but the island will bounce back," she said.

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