NBA legend and businessman Walt “Clyde” Frazier knows what it’s like to go through a Category 5 hurricane and rebuild again.
A homeowner on St. Croix, the southernmost island U.S. Virgin Islands, Frazier survived Hurricane Hugo’s wrath in September 1989 while huddled in his five-by-eight-foot bathroom as he listened to the howling wind tear his home apart.
“That was the safest place in the house, so I was there for like twelve, thirteen hours of the storm,” Frazier recalled in a phone call from St. Croix on Thursday.
“It was like a monster,” he said of Hurricane Hugo. “It just kept coming. It wore on me. I know after a while I was talking to myself, like, ‘Go away.’ I mean, it was like you were losing it because I had no communication, no radio, I didn’t have anything.”
Yahoo Finance’s initial interview with Frazier, scheduled for Sept. 5, was postponed due to Hurricane Irma and the need for him to prep his home.
The storm packed winds of 185 miles per hour, leaving a wake of devastation on St. John and St. Thomas. Since the storm veered north, St. Croix, which is located about 35 miles south of St. Thomas, avoided most of the destruction and is now serving as a hub for relief efforts.
“We were blessed,” Frazier said, noting just a few trees had been damaged.
In the storm’s aftermath, images of destroyed homes and businesses and downed power lines and trees have emerged. Residents on St. John and St. Thomas have shared stories of not having power or access to water and food and having to endure long lines for provisions.
“I can sympathize and empathize with the people I’m watching on TV because I’ve been there. I know how devastating it is,” Frazier said.
“I didn’t have anything cold for four months”
In the months following Hugo, Frazier had to find a way to get by without access to electricity.
“Four months, man, without electrical. Can you believe it? I didn’t have ice. I didn’t have anything cold for four months. There was no electrical,” Frazier said. “But, you know, it’s ironic. Every day you go into the bathroom, and you try to turn on the light, and all you had to do is look up and see the sky through the roof. But we are creatures of habit, so we’d be walking around trying to turn the lights on in the kitchen and run water, but there was no water.”
He recalled it being hot, with little to no breeze and a lot of mosquitos. There was looting and most of the food was gone. His diet consisted of rice and beans and cereal. He cooked his food over wooden louvers and collected rainwater from his cistern to flush the toilet and to shower.
“It was back to primitive times, man. You worked during the day. When it’s dark, I went to my little five-by-eight room, and I went to sleep until the morning.”
Those trying times made him realize just how much we squander our resources.
“When we don’t have power here, I see how little water you need to clean yourself. You know what I mean? We take these long showers. Here, you see how simple life really is when you don’t have power and you go in and take like a bird bath. If you have power, you’d be standing in the shower fifteen or twenty minutes. You’d be leaving lights on, the fans on.”
Frazier said the experience changed him.
“It was devastating, but I also had a revelation — I can survive. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. That experience made me a better person, a strong person, for sure,” he said. “This place has given me a lot of discipline to get organized, attack what I need to do every day. That has been a blessing for me. It’s helped me physically and mentally in every aspect of my life.”
Because it is not one of the 50 states, the people in the U.S. territory often feel a sense of distance and isolation.
“We’re so far down that people have a tendency to overlook us as well. That’s why you see the people, saying, ‘Don’t forget us on the islands.” Frazier said. “We will be the last guys to get plywood down here with Miami and Houston and all these other places devastated. We will be the last one to get supplies. That’s just the way it is when you’re down in the islands.”
But there’s a sense of resiliency among the residents, he added.
“People that live here — when the power goes out, we grab a candle, we grab a flashlight. We don’t waste any time. We just move to the next phase, man, that’s just the way it is. We’re accustomed to that. Whereas in Miami, they’re devastated. People without power they don’t know what to do. They’re panicking. They can’t go on their computer. They can’t watch TV. Whereas here it’s just a normal way of life.”
Tourism is another concern with the critical winter season approaching. The territory’s main economic staple is tourism, with about 2.5 million visitors each year, with most coming from the United States and arriving by cruise ship.
While St. Thomas and St. John begin their recovery and rebuilding efforts, St. Croix is still open for business.
“If you’re looking for a naturalistic style of life, laid back, beautiful scenery, St. Croix is the place,” Frazier said. “It’s not overly commercialized, so it’s still reminiscent of an island lifestyle.”
Julia La Roche is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter .