We turned on the news to find out there was a hurricane hurtling across the Atlantic Ocean towards the Caribbean and our home on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. At first it was only recorded as a Category 3 hurricane and didn’t look like it was going to be a direct hit. Hurricane season is a nerve wracking time of year every time it comes around, but unfortunately 2017 was the year it became a harsh reality!
Speaking to friends who decided to stay on the islands over the summer months, it was quickly becoming a worrying time which needed immediate action. Everybody was boarding up their windows and doors, moving furniture into rooms where they thought there may be less water damage, parking cars where they thought there would be a minimum threat of landslides or trees and debris landing on them and stocking up on water and canned goods. We made sure we had somebody looking after our dog, Ben, and they had plenty of dog food for him. As our house was right by the sea we knew it was going to be hit hard, but we had it boarded up and we had neighbours from all over the area staying in there for shelter as their own homes were at more risk of damage.
We waited in anticipation, watching the news, viewing many of the bars webcams, and getting updates from friends until all communication went dead. On September 6th 2017 Hurricane Irma swept across the north eastern Caribbean islands causing widespread and catastrophic damage. Irma was the most powerful storm ever seen in the Atlantic. On September 7th the intensity of the storm continued to increase to a ‘Category 5’ with wind speeds reaching 185 mph and the eye of the storm passing directly over the British Virgin Islands all the while at it’s peak intensity.
There was extensive damage on the islands, with buildings and roads destroyed, the storm surge submerged Cane Garden Bay, where our home was, residential areas were left in ruins, power lines were down, trees were uprooted, streets were turned into rivers and four people were confirmed dead in the BVI.
After the hurricane had passed, we waited anxiously to hear from friends hoping they had survived and were without injury. We wanted to know if our homes and belongings were still in tact and what the damage was to our company and if we still had jobs to go back to.
Unfortunately it wasn’t great news. We communicated with friends who were in turmoil. They were left in complete devastation and told us the islands looked like a war zone. Trees were down, the lush green hills had turned to grey, buildings were destroyed, roofs had blown off homes, cars were flung miles down the streets, boats had sunk and everybody was in total shock and disbelief as to what had just happened.
Everybody was frantic, the looting began, there was a lack of food and water, it was reported prisoners had escaped from jail and everybody was desperate to get off the island to safety.
Somebody set up a Facebook page called ‘BVI Abroad – Hurricane Irma’. Stories started trickling in, photos of the devastation across the islands were seen and everybody was desperate to find out the whereabouts and safety of family and friends. A few people managed to use satellite phones and communicate with loved ones and let others know of their friends safety.
The evacuation process was slow and disorganised. There was utter chaos at the airports with people trying to charter planes, people were trying to sail to Puerto Rico or the U.S Virgin Islands so they could catch flights back to the mainland and there was stories of cruise ships collecting survivors and taking them back to the states.
We eventually found out that our house had survived with its roof in tact. There were a few smashed windows and some water damage, but we were definitely some of the lucky ones. Unfortunately the charter company that we worked for sustained serious damage, with 60. ft. catamarans thrown across parking lots, many of them sunk, one was on top of a building and the offices and docks were in complete dire straits.
Thankfully we were in the UK whilst the hurricane hit, due to the birth of our newborn daughter, so we were grateful for our safety, but the uncertainty of life for the time being was a huge strain for us and many of the people living on the islands as we had nowhere to live and no jobs to go back to. Unfortunately it will take a long time before the BVI gets back to normality with power and water needing to be restored island wide, the basic necessities which people need to live are available and the safety of the public is paramount.
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