We all wonder how wed handle ourselves during a catastrophe. Marshall and Katie Carroll of Marthas Vineyard found out one beautiful summer day that suddenly turned ugly.
The young couple owns a Texaco gas station thats up against a dock in Menemsha, a fishing village of a few hundred people on the island, which is seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
A sleek, expensive new yacht was moored next to the station, and Katie had pumped the vessel full of fuel before returning to the cash register inside. Marshalls mother had just picked up the couples daughter, Bradley, now 4, and taken her home. The boats owners had paid, and Marshall was on the dock helping cast off.
Without warning, the yacht erupted in a massive explosion amid the summer bustle of the dock.
Inside the store, a checkerboard next to the dockside window flew through the air, scraped a red mark across Katies forehead and knocked her down, then crashed through the front window.
Katie leaped to her feet, turned off electrical power to the gas station, and frantically began looking for Marshall. He was buried under a pile of rubble, and she was convinced he must be dead.
But in those awful few seconds after the explosion, Katie and Marshall discovered a new dimension to their decision to build a life together on the island. Theyll never forget how the entire community came together in that moment of crisis.
A fisherman who had been nearby began pulling debris off Marshall and reassuring Katie. Marshall, who had a slight concussion and glass cuts on an arm, began helping other victims, despite Katies urging that he just sit down.
Almost immediately, this place was full of people from the community coming to help, Marshall says. There were commercial fishermen whose families havent spoken for generations, and they dont even remember why, but that day they worked together without even thinking about it. A couple of boats leaving the harbor came back to help, and some of the people on board were nurses and emergency medical technicians. There was a doctor who came ashore. I cant pick out one to thank, there were so many. Its just a miracle nobody was killed.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which later presented citations to the Carrolls and other Vineyarders who responded to the disaster, said five people were seriously injured and 20 required medical attention. Marshall believes the reason no one on the boat was killed is that the vessel had state-of-the-art fire fighting equipment installed, and it was immediately effective.
There was just a flood of ambulances and fire trucks here, Katie recalls. There was every island ambulance but one. It was left in service in case something else happened.
The stations windows and dockside door were blown out, but the boats fire suppression equipment spared the building and probably much of the historic dock area. During the cleanup following the accident, workers discovered the motor from the yachts dingy resting atop the stations roof.
Thank goodness Marshalls mom decided to pick up Bradley early, Katie says.
There are a lot of what ifs? Marshall adds. So many things could have happened.
Marshall, 32, and Katie, 30, met and married right after college. Marshalls family ties go back to the earliest English settlers of Marthas Vineyard, and he was born on the island in 1969. His father and grandfather bought the Menemsha gas station in 1971, and Marshall worked there while he was growing up.
They keep the Texaco station open 365 days a year, even through the slowest of the winter months when a fresh pot of coffee always is brewing and a commercial fisherman, a town official, or a wandering visitor is stopping by to trade the latest news and discuss the weather.
Its all about community, Marshall and Katie agree. And the day the boat exploded reminds them how important that community is.