St. Maarten Hurricane Irma Evacuation Plans

This is Part Three of Mike and my Hurricane Irma experience in St. Maarten




Our local friends, Ron and his family, leaving our resort the morning we were to be evacuated




Hurricane Irma had arrived on St. Maarten early Wednesday AM, September 6.  Four days later, Sunday, September 10, we were about to be evacuated.  Told to be downstairs by 7am to board the bus to be taken to the cruise ship that would evacuate us, we were still waiting more than eight hours later.

Our friends, Ron and his family, had left the resort when we went to the lobby at 7am.  It was a tearful goodbye.  We worried what would happen to them, when/if we would see them again, and when we would see our beautiful island alive and vibrant again.

During our long wait, we stood a lot, sat some, talked, and even ate breakfast.  The resort staff provided the breakfast, and the respite it provided nourished us as much as the food.  We were in an “on hold” mindset, waiting.  There was little information provided by anyone during this time.

There were about thirty of us at our resort all wanting to get out.  A little before noon, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was spotted passing by our resort.  There was an immediate outbreak of applause and cheers.  Seeing a cruise ship come in was confirmation that we were really going to be evacuated.  This was the first that I knew which cruise ship was going to rescue us.

During the more than eight hours that we waited, there were several buses that came and went, but none to take us to the cruise ship.  There was a truck that loaded our luggage, and parked and waited near us.   We waited and waited.

Some asked questions about when the bus was coming (“soon”), why it wasn’t there (“it has taken some people to the airport and will be back soon”), and what time the cruise ship was to sail (“5pm”).  When 3pm came and went and still no bus, the unrest in the group was palpable.  We all knew the drive across the island to the cruise ship terminal could take us a long time given the road conditions, and we began to fear the cruise ship leaving without us.  Hope began to turn to hopelessness.  What had seemed too good to be true, being rescued soon, might actually be just that.

In addition to the cruise ship evacuation option, evacuation was also possible by military planes.  No mention was made by anyone, to my knowledge, about any cost involved with either option.  I did wonder about the cost, but did not want to make any decision based on that, so I did not verbalize the question, not even to Mike.  I remember thinking that if there was a cost, that whatever the cost was, it would be worth it.  I also remember thinking that if there was a cost involved, that we likely would have been told, since “they” would need to be sure that we were prepared to pay it.

There were some in our resort who elected to take the military planes option.  They were told they could only bring one suitcase and that it would have to be held on their lap.  There was much discussion back and forth among those waiting about which evacuation option they were electing and why.  Those who elected the military planes option left in the morning and walked the two miles to the airport.  We had no information about how they fared.

Mike and I discussed it, and decided to take the cruise ship.  Our decision making about this included the difficulty posed by the military plane option.  We did not relish repacking our belongings into one suitcase each and leaving everything else behind from two additional suitcases.  Having to walk to the airport with our two remaining pieces of luggage and holding the bags on our laps during the flight was also a factor.  And that wasn’t about leaving behind our “stuff” as much as it was the sheer energy required to elect this option.  We were told we could be waiting in line for hours outside of the airport in the heat.  I was also concerned about being able to get a hotel room in San Juan and a flight back to the U.S when there were already so many people there trying to do the same thing.   Comparing this option to being driven by bus to a cruise ship, and once on the ship, having all the details for room and board taken care of, the decision was an easy one for us; we chose the cruise ship.  And not for one minute did I think this would be a cruise that was enjoyable; it would be an evacuation ship.

When hours passed and hope was almost gone, our bus finally arrived!  We boarded the bus quickly and were soon on our way.  Once the bus started moving my fear again turned to hope.  I think we finally allowed ourselves to believe that we were going to be evacuated, and soon.  The drive to the cruise ship did not take as long as I had feared it would.



People waiting in line at our resort, waiting to be evacuated.





Soon Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas was visible, and we were almost at the gate that would be our entry to the ship that would deliver us from our nightmare.  We were soon to begin our circuitous route back to the U.S.


Our evacuation ship, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas” came to St. Maarten to take 300 Americans to safety.



But not so fast.  The guards who came to the bus driver’s window said the ship was full.  There was no room for us.  We were told to turn around and go back.  The bus driver said he was out of gas; he could not make it back.  Now, not only would the ship not accept us, but what would we do?  The resort had released us and might not allow us to come back, if we could even get back.

This was my second lowest point of the entire Hurricane Irma experience.   My lowest point had been when the hurricane was passing over us and I truly believed that I was going to die by being ripped from our resort and thrown into the Atlantic Ocean or against our concrete building.  The fear I felt now was due to the absolute unknown of what we would be able to do now that our Royal Caribbean life boat had sunk.  I think on some subconscious level I was more worried at this point about what could happen to us before we might die.

While my mind was swirling with these thoughts and fears, our bus driver was in solution mode.  The guards and the gates did not contain him.

The rest of the story is the subject of the next blog.

About Patti Fralix

Patti Fralix inspires positive change in work, life, and family through Speaking, Consulting, and Coaching in three specialty areas: Leadership, Managing Differences, and Customer Service. Her leadership firm, The Fralix Group, Inc., has been helping clients achieve practical and tangible results for twenty-two years.
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2 Responses to St. Maarten Hurricane Irma Evacuation Plans

  1. Now this would be a cliff-hanger, but I know you are safe and sound. Can’t wait for the next installment. I think a book needs to be written of this experience and Mike’s with the Haiti earthquake!

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