Hurricane Irma was coming quickly. Brittany and her 17-week-old son had to get off St. John as soon as possible. All her friends were calling airline after airline to come rescue Brittany, putting her life before their own. Eventually, a six-passenger private jet zoomed over to the frantic island. Six people and a dog were able to squeeze in.
Brittany was extremely thankful to have boarded. She broke into tears of sadness as the jet roared off, leaving her husband to help others prepare for the biggest and strongest hurricane tiny St. John had ever faced. She sobbed throughout the whole plane ride; all she could do now was trust the Lord.
"I was very sad and upset," Brittany says. "I was praying for safety. For two days I didn’t hear anything from my husband, and I didn't know if he was even alive." It was her idea to leave her home. Some of her friends told her it would be fine if she stayed, but Brittany felt like God, and her “mommy gut,” were trying to tell her to leave, and get her son RJ to safety.
From the Delta to the Bahamas
Brittany MacNealy Gonzales is a Christian woman who grew up in the Mississippi Delta, but has lived in the Bahamas for 7 ½ years. She compares the two places, because they are both very small. Two-thirds of St. John is a national park.
She is married and has a baby named RJ. All her family lives in Mississippi, so, during the storm, she had a place to find refuge. She is grateful because others who grew up on St. John their entire life had no place to find refuge in the U.S.
Many teams have responded to the island's desperate calls and needs. Two celebrities brought water and food to St. John. Country singer Kenny Chesney has a house on St. John that was quickly wiped out by Hurricane Irma. He was able to set up a foundation to raise money, because of his huge fan following. He is helping the island by bringing food and supplies.
Former professional basketball player Tim Duncan grew up on the island. He was devastated to see his hometown wrecked. He sent an airplane full of bottled water, inspired by all the support shown by the states.
More Government Help
The U.S. government could have supported St. John more quickly. Hurricane Irma struck on a Wednesday, but the government didn't show up until Sunday. That's 96 hours without shelter, food, or water.
Some of Brittany's friends, many with infants, weren't able to fly off the island. Their children clung to their mother's breast, wailing in fright. Hurricane Irma was too strong for their little minds and tiny eyes to encounter. It would have been so much better if the government decided to do a humanitarian flight, then many more people (especially infants and elderly) could have left for safety.
A New Life after Irma
Brittany now travels back and forth between St. John and the states—her whole family again united; but everything she owned was destroyed in an instant. She had massive plans for how RJ would grow up on the island, but God's plans for her boy weren't what she expected.
The family ran a vacation home business, but now they have no way to make a profit, because there are no tourists and the rental homes are unlivable. Her husband is now going to practice law as they rebuild their homes to reopen their vacation rental business.
How You Can Help
A way you can help is send money and necessities to St. John. Make donations to the St. John Community Foundation at http://thestjohnfoundation.org/donate. It would mean so much to see their ruined island rebuilt strong with the help of loving neighbors.
Elizabeth Elkins is 11 and attends St. Augustine School in Ridgeland, Mississippi. She has studied at The Well Writers Guild for three months. The Well Writers Guild is the mother organization of Mississippi Matters. It is devoted to finding and mentoring promising young writers like Elizabeth, whose future as a writer is very bright! Congratulations Elizabeth on your first published work!