The Villaj Idiut: Starting over after Hurricane Irma

I met Stacy and Shay Mulcare more than 30 years ago in Baltimore. They were my older sister’s “cool” friends from Towson State University.

Stacy was pretty, bubbly and vibrant. Shay had long hair in a ponytail and a thin mustache – the ’90s version of Capt. Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s character in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Which is ironic, because Stacy and Shay ended up in the Caribbean. All of us, at one time or another, have the fleeting fantasy of getting off the grid, moving to an island and living in tranquility. In 1995, Stacy and Shay did, relocating to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It’s a lark, we thought. They’ll be back and slog it out like the rest of us. Except, they didn’t. They stayed.

“I’ve traveled a lot, but aesthetically it was the most beautiful place I have seen on Earth,” Stacy said. “Pristine. No traffic lights. No fast food. You knew everybody. I thought it would be my forever home.”

Stacy built a thriving wedding-planning business called Ceremonies of St. John. She has planned more than 3,400 weddings in 23 years. Shay had three businesses: He was a private chef; he created wedding cakes for the events Stacy planned; and, recently, he got his pilot’s license, purchased his own plane and became a private pilot.

“It was paradise,” Stacy said. “When I got up in the morning, I could see seven different bays from my window. “On my back deck, I would see St. Croix from one side, St. Thomas from the middle and the British Virgin Islands from the other side. Paradise.”

And then, Hurricane Irma hit. They had been through hurricanes before, of course, up to 180 mph winds. But this hurricane was not the same as the others.

“You knew it was different because normally the storms come from the south,” Stacy recalled. “This was coming in the opposite direction. There was a wind meter on the hill that broke at 225 mph. I don’t know if it got higher than that. I don’t know if you know the game jai alai, when they whip those balls around. Except these weren’t balls; it was the rain.”

For 15 minutes, they were in the living room and watched the roofs of five houses come off. Twenty-five minutes later, Stacy saw a strange light on her husband’s head.

“It took me a while to figure out the roof was coming off the house,” she said. “When that happened, all the glass exploded inward. Shay came running from the kitchen, grabbed my hand and we ran toward the shower stall. By the time we started running, the walls were beginning to collapse. You could feel the air beginning to suck everything out. We stood in the shower from 1:40 p.m. ’til 9 that night. When you leaned against that wall, you could feel the wind on the other side. We just prayed. If that wall had gone, we would have been sucked into the storm. When we wandered out, the house didn’t exist anymore.”

They evacuated to St. Thomas, then to Puerto Rico on a cruise ship, leaving that island two days before Hurricane Maria devastated the people who helped them. They returned to Maryland to live with Stacy’s sister and figure out what to do next, having lost everything except a couple of pieces of clothing and Shay’s plane, which was in a hangar on St. Thomas.

Last week, they discovered that the guy who was supposed to be filling the planes with gas actually had a universal Cessna key. He had been “borrowing” Shay’s plane and transporting people from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico for some side cash. He got caught up in the backwash of two Blackhawk helicopters that were there for aid. Shay’s plane crashed. The pilot died. The plane is gone.

“Shay is a very strong man,” Stacy said recently. “But the plane has greatly affected him. He is struggling this week to come to terms that we survived two Cat 5 hurricanes, then to have this happen. The businesses. The cars. The house. The clothes. Videos. Photos. Love letters. All gone. But at least we had the hope of the plane. And now that is gone. One minute we are successful entrepreneurs; the next minute we don’t own anything.”

I know most people have helped victims of the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. To donate to help Stacy and Shay rebuild their lives, visit



Frank Hughes is a Los Altos resident and business owner. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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