Couple faces devastation of hurricane

ISLANDERS — George Pierce of Granada and Jamee Hinrichsen of Fairmont moved to St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) in October after Jamee fell in love with the island during an internship.

FAIRMONT — Jamee Hinrichsen and her fiance, George Pierce, witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Irma firsthand when they lost their home in St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Now, Jamee’s family is doing everything it can to rebuild the young couple’s lives.

Jamee went to college for tourism, which led her to an internship helping manage an eco-resort in St. John. Jessi Carlson, Jamee’s sister, said that during her internship she fell in love with the island.

“Growing up, she has always wanted to live on the ocean or by the ocean,” Jessi said.

When Jamee returned to Fairmont, she and George, of Granada, packed up their belongings, sold their house and moved to St. John in October 2016. Jamee worked at a souvenir shop while George, a self-taught musician, played music and worked as a cook.

“I think he loves it there too,” Jessi said.

On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma, a category five hurricane, hit the U.S. Virgin Islands, causing wide destruction. Jamee and George did not evacuate. Instead, they boarded up the windows of the cement building where they lived and loaded up on supplies, food and water.

“She felt prepared as best as she could be,” Jessi said.

When the hurricane hit St. John, the roof of Jamee and George’s home blew away and they had to move to the basement. At one point, Jamee told her mother, Cindy Hinrichsen, she was holding onto the toilet so she wouldn’t blow away from the heavy winds.

“[Jamee] told her that she was literally afraid for her life,” Jessi said. “[Jamee] didn’t think that she was going to make it.”

General Deborah Howell, leader of the Virgin Islands National Guard, told NPR that most areas in the U.S. Virgin Islands have been reduced to rubble, and that rebuilding the islands will be starting “from scratch.”

Jamee has had little contact with her family since the hurricane hit, having to drive 45 minutes to use a satellite phone. According to Jessi, the family did not hear from Jamee for six days following the hurricane.

“It felt like an eternity,” Jessi said.

On Sept. 14, when the family first heard from Jamee, she told them that people were waiting six hours to use the phone, and that they could only speak for one minute.

“Her first words to my mom were, ‘Don’t ask any questions, I only have a minute. But I’m all right,'” Jessi said.

With their home damaged from the storm, Jamee and George had to take shelter at the eco-resort where Jamee had once interned. They are currently staying with 15 other people in the eight-bedroom shelter. Jamee told her family that it is likely that they will be without power for six months, with limited gas for the generator as well as limited supplies and water.

According to Jessi, almost everything the couple owned was ruined or lost in the hurricane. In a phone call with her family, Jamee said she had $30 to her name and that she was down to the flip flops on her feet.

“She gave up everything to go there, and has lost everything now,” Jessi said.

With the island still devastated from Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday morning. The hurricane has now been identified as category four by the National Weather Service. According to USA Today, about half of St. John residents have left the island following Hurricane Irma. Jessi said Jamee and George could not afford to evacuate, so they are continuing to stay in the temporary shelter.

Jessi said the damage of the hurricanes will leave Jamee and George without any source of income to rebuild their lives in St. John. Their wedding, which was scheduled for January, has now been postponed. Even bringing Jamee and George back to Minnesota will cost a considerable amount of money.

“I can’t imagine going from having a home, having a life, having a job to being homeless and having nothing,” Jessi said. “What an empty feeling.”

To lighten the financial load, Jessi has started a fundraiser to help get the couple back on their feet and to start rebuilding their lives.

Jessi is touched by the outreach of the community so far through showing concern, putting the couple in their prayers and donating.

“It makes me appreciate the small community we live in,” Jessi said.

Donations can be mailed or dropped off to Jessi Carlson at 942 S. Orient St., Fairmont, or Profinium at P.O. Box 848, Fairmont.