Aquinnah: Flooding, emergencies and CERT, baby seal, and Tri-Town Ambulance

—MV Times

Last week I found myself in the terrifying position of driving my new-to-me vehicle through a rushing river, complete with waves. I wasn’t in the wilds of Montana, I was on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. No signs had yet been put up to warn of the flooding, and I was part of a long string of vehicles, moving in both directions, caught by surprise, who had no option but to try to keep moving. As I drove, I managed to stay calm and focused, moving slowly with the traffic, wipers clearing my view of the oncoming waves, hoping that my car didn’t stall or slide. In the back of my mind I saw the news clips of floods and other disasters in other places, and felt ashamed of my arrogant “What on earth were they thinking to go into that situation in the first place?” responses. I should have known. I should have surmised. I know what a combination of high tide and heavy rainfall can mean in low-lying places. I now know that it is up to me to think ahead. I will do so from now on. I urge you to do the same.

I am usually a cautious person. I always plan ahead. In fact, I resolutely signed on to our town’s Community Emergency Response Team as soon as it was called for, being grateful that I had a chance to help my town if and when disaster struck. That was about five years ago. Since that time, a core group of citizens have stuck together as the Aquinnah CERT, planning and training on how to be of help to our first responders as they deal with the aftereffects of a serious event. We have organized to set up a warming shelter during the winter months, or a cooling shelter during the summer, if electricity fails our town for more than a few hours, and our first responder chiefs call on us to do so. We have organized to set up an overnight shelter if the event has made some homes uninhabitable, and we need to help the Salvation Army. I am proud that I am part of that core group. Volunteers are always needed, however, as not everyone is on-Island at all times, and we never know when we might be called for. In fact, we have only had to set up a warming shelter once in all this time. But we want to stay ready, and so are always looking for new volunteers who are willing to be trained and then help when asked. I’m proud that Aquinnah was the first town on-island to organize a CERT team. If you are a resident of Aquinnah and want to be on the list, you can write to, and someone will get back to you. This wild weather is likely to be a regular part of our lives now. As the Scouts say, Be Prepared.

There was one other result of the high tides and heavy rain that affected us. Charley goes to the beach every evening to watch the sunset. That evening as he walked the path to the beach at Philbin, sitting among the reeds along the pathway was a baby seal. The little guy, friendly and seemingly not afraid, had obviously been washed ashore, way up onto the dunes. Charley knew not to approach it, and came home and consulted with Isaac, who called Tribal Ranger Chris Manning for his advice. Chris went and found the seal seemingly healthy and not entangled, and so decided to leave him alone until the next morning. The next day the seal was on the beach, and, hopefully is now happily back in the ocean, where he belongs. Meanwhile, Charley and I have a great photo of that sweet little seal face, and fantasize that he is happy and safe back in the sheltering arms of the sea.

As long as I’m on the subject of emergency response, Tom Murphy sent me a note the other day about what a great thing it is to have our new Tri-Town Ambulance building in Chilmark. It’s a lovely little building on Middle Road, right behind the Chilmark Town Hall. Drive by and take a look. The facility is being paid for by the towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. Tom estimates that its presence means that the response time for an ambulance to get to us here in Aquinnah used to be approximately 20 to 25 minutes from West Tisbury, but is now between eight and 12 minutes from Chilmark. In the case of a medical emergency, minutes surely do count, so this is a comfort. Let’s hear it for town-to-town cooperation!

This week’s birthdays include Carrie Anne Vanderhoop on Jan. 18, and Ivan Vanderhoop on Jan. 25.

Send me your news, please. I’ll report it. Stay dry and stay well.

If you have any Aquinnah Town Column suggestions, email Kathie Olson,