“Don’t worry about the car; just stay safe.” This was from a representative of the car rental agency in St. Maarten from whom we had rented our car for our two week stay there. Mike and I had gone by the day before Hurricane Irma was due to arrive on St. Maarten, to check about returning our rental car early, concerned about it being under water when Hurricane Irma was due to arrive a few hours later. The rental car agency representative was concerned about our safety, not the car. The next day when we could get out and survey the damage from the hurricane, the rental car agency and its cars on the lot were mostly demolished. Our rental car had been parked underground and had no damage at all.
As I began writing this at 5:45am on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma was at that very moment passing over St. Maarten, and Mike and I were in our bathroom where there was no outside window or wall. Our local friends who moved in with us to weather the storm were in a bedroom. We had done our best to prepare for the worst, hoping for the best. I was doing my best to keep calm, helped by texts, emails, and Facebook postings of love and prayers from many family members and friends stateside. I kept pictures of our grandchildren in front of me, praying for the gift of life to see them again. The winds raged outside at greater than 185 miles an hour, a cruel reminder of nature’s power and wrath.
While I was more frightened than I have ever been, I was also grateful. I was grateful for a strong building that was protecting us from the ravages of this storm. I was grateful for all the local people who spent days preparing for this impending devastation, knowing they will be left behind to pick up the pieces long after the tourists have (hopefully) returned home. I was grateful for generators, which kicked in soon after the power went off. I was grateful for food and water that we had that sustained us for the days that we couldn’t get out. I was grateful for our local friends who were with us. Having a 17-month-old baby and an 11-year-old boy and their parents going through this with us kept my fear in perspective. I was grateful for the resort staff who endangered themselves by going room to room to make sure their guests were safe. In the days after, I had much more to be grateful for. This experience was such a testament to the reality that during our storms, literal and otherwise, there is always plenty to be grateful for. Keeping thoughts of gratitude in focus helped calm my fear, as did writing about the experience while I was living it.
The eye of Irma passed over us, giving us about an hour of calm. During that time, we put towels and bedspreads down to manage some of the water that came in. We lost a skylight window, which provided an open portal for the rain. After the eye passed, the winds and rain started up again as Irma continued its path over St. Maarten. All 6 of us were then huddled in our bathroom, which we decided was the safest place to be. I even brought the two noodles we had elsewhere in the unit to the bathroom in case the water came in heavier and I had to swim!
I am grateful for prayers that many prayed for us, and will continue to pray for our safety and well-being. As hard as it was to be in the middle of this storm, I imagine it was harder for our family, not having any connection with us to know how we were faring. I prayed, not just for us and our safety, but also for our loved ones, for peace that passes all understanding.
About 7 hours after the hurricane began, it passed us by, headed elsewhere, eventually making its way to Florida and Georgia. We were left in our condo with water everywhere and power from a generator. There was no air conditioner or running water, and the hurricane shutters remained on the windows for the remainder of our stay due to a second hurricane, Hurricane Jose’s, expected arrival. We remained in our unit with those conditions until we were evacuated on Sunday, September 10th, four days after Hurricane Irma’s arrival. Thankfully we were spared a second hurricane. Hurricane Jose did not arrive in St. Maarten.
As I finish this today on September 13th, a full week after beginning to write it during Hurricane Irma’s assault on St. Maarten, we have not yet made it back stateside. We are still being evacuated.
More articles about this life changing event will tell the rest of the story.