Hurricane Irma was to reach the island of Saint Martin | Sint Maarten today. The day began with huge waves and there was a ghostly calm before the storm in the air. No dog barking, no bird chirping, no sounds other than hammers and knocking on windows, doors and roofs ….
Our German guests were ready to leave the island and our only worries were to get these two off island in time and find a safe place for ourselves, because the weather forecast predicted a century-hurricane Cat 5. After trying unsuccessfully to settle in some hotels, we drove the two to the airport, while Irma increased from hour to hour in intensity. The fear of the locals and those who have ever experienced a hurricane was felt. On Facebook, many posted a sort of farewell post, and some had already tears in their eyes. Anxiety spread. Many friends still asked us via Internet, whether we were well placed while my two men pounded the last plywood in front of the windows. „Turn off the Internet, that will make you only crazy … now we can not change anything any more“ … I was told.
When it got dark, we all laid down in the small bed room. We still had electricity and I was so excited that I got could not fall asleep. „Try to get some rest“ Thommy said. The two men slept and slept until 11 pm, while the wind increased sharply. At about 2 am, heavy rains pounded against our roof and the air pressure fell rapidly. Now it began to rain inside thru the windows. My son was awake. He had not heard the noises, but felt the rain. At 2.30 am we all were wide awake, my son and I had a mattress over us, because gusts and rain were so strong against the outer walls and the roof, that we had to reckon with the worst. The house suffered such severe shocks as if a car were driving against it from the outside.
Next thing was that the satellite dish tore off the house and hit the outer wall until it completely flew away. Water, gusts of wind, creaking, rustling, and violent noises interlaced. I held my ears, as the sounds were so scary that I only concentrated on my own breathing. None of us said anything. Everyone was busy with himself. Except an occasional: „Are you ok? Everything good? “ We were silent. You could hardly understand each other anyway, because of the noise.
The whole night raged outside, Irma whipped and dragged around the house. She tore at the walls of the house and they were shaking like during an earthquake. It wobbled several times so hard that I thought we were going downhill with the entire house complex from the slope straight down to the road. One can hardly describe in words how this feels. It is the strong gusts that make you fear. My only thought, when does it stop, just stop ….
In the morning at 6 am it was suddenly quiet – the eye of the Hurricane was right above us. The light was yellowish and bright. Absolutely no wind. Thommy took a step to the door, and our son wanted also to take a look at the outside. I was afraid and anxious, since I had read that one should not do this in any case, because suddenly the storm will restart in the same violence as at the end of the first round. As soon as they were both back inside, I calmed down. Only 45 minutes later, it started again – this time from the opposite side (from the ocean side).
Strong rains and gusts were now pressing against the door. Water entered between the cracks and joints – like spray. The water that came through the grain of the wooden entrance door made a very loud sound as if you were blowing on a comb … The door was not to stand any longer, so Thommy screamed, „Come, we push the fridge, the chest of drawers and the couch in front of the door. “ They managed to push the items between the door and the opposite wall, but I also saw that Thommy was pushing against the door, but the door was still pushing into the room. Thommy shouted, we’re supposed to go to the bathroom immediatly. I shouted, „Come away from the door,“ and in the next moment the door and frame came into the room. With it the storm in the form of the most violent wind, rain, water, noise and heavy pressure. We squatted on a small mattress on the bathroom floor, when Thommy pushed another double mattress into the bathroom and jumped into the bathroom shortly thereafter. He threw himself from the inside against the bathroom door. He fought with the door, but it could no longer close permanently since the pressure of the storm, which was now in the house., was way too strong. The moment he turned towards us, the door flew open just behind him. Thommy tore his arm up, and the door slammed against his forearm. I could see that he felt pain. Now the storm pushed with massive pressure into the bathroom and threatened to burst our ears…. for a few seconds I thought, now the bathroom will explode – this is it …. just a couple seconds later another „bang“ and the pressure escaped through the side window. The plywood had flapped to the outside and now the storm rushed through the door, through us through and out the window again. Thommy jumped under the mattress with a leap, and we clung to the mattress from below. Us three were now on a single mattress – over us the double mattress – through us chased Irma. You could feel the energy, this powerful force, and whenever you tried to let go, a violent gust came along, which immediately made it clear to you, it is far from over. With a deafening noise she hunted through us and brought lots of rain into the bath room. The water level in the room increased appreciably … Only wearing a t-shirt and underpants I laid on the tiles, our son we had laid protective in the middle. We remained quiet. No one spoke. In a moment I thought I had to vomit, but I thought, no, that would make everyting even worse, so I swallowed down the reflex. The water level rose slowly and steadily and I began to freeze. The wind whined, whistled, and raged through our bath for hours. One did not even dare to put out the head at the side, to take a look, but remained simply rigidly in the same place. It was an eternity that lasted until the gusts of the air were diminishing in intensity and Thommy jumped up immediately to get our valuables out of the room next door. Again I got frightened and begged him to wait, his life was more important than that. He waited further, but then he went out and came back from the room next door with the bag in his arms. He had to hold onto the door frame, because the wind still flowed strong through the entrance door
We stayed for another 2 hours laying under the mattress. Thommy tried to cheer us up by pretending to order a pizza with his radio and asked if they would deliver today. Before the storm I had read that it would be less wind around 10 am on Wednesday morning, but it took another 2 hours until the winds lowered down, so that we could sit up and look out of the windows. There was devastation. No more leaves on the trees and bushes! The boats in the marina were almost all destroyed, thrown ashore or simply crushed or capsized. Covered roofs, whole houses were simply gone, swept away, destroyed … I could smell strongly gas, then gasoline …. Everything was messed up, broken or wet. Inside and outside. We could walk around the house after another 2 hours (around 2pm on Wednesday, the 6.9.17). The terrace was full of water, the drain was blocked, the rain gutters and the antennas were demolished, the house had several dents and the roof was also damaged in several places. On the street, all sorts of people were drifting around, carrying things back and forth. Looters? Or do they belong to the neighborhood? We did not know, but it was odd that somebody would carry out items of the house on a pick-up with such strong winds and rain. Fortunately, we live far up above the road and the climb is cumbersome. This keeps one or the other from getting up to us. It felt unpleasant to watch! We radioed over maritime channel 16 that we seem to have already looters in the neighborhood and hoped that the gendarmerie would take care of the matter. What we did not know at the time was, that the gendarmerie had no radio connection.
When we finally climbed out of the house and I had a look around the marina, I was shocked and I got tears in my eyes and had to hold my hand to the mouth. This was a very emotional moment, because the extent of the destruction around was so enormous. What kind of energy had been chased through us … Phew! We had survived Irma, and that alone counted at the moment. I was suddenly aware of this: we could have been dead! The next moment, despair arose, for I could immediately recognise that it would take a long time for Paradise to return. And it will be a great effort! What should we do until then? How should survive, make a living? Thommy said “one day after another” and we would see it would go faster than we could imagine now. There would be aid and we should not worry about it now. Only about what is on the agenda now, which is releasing the cats and the neighbours. He reached for his drill and opened all the shutters, but only so far that one could crawl underneath, for still the wind whistled and it was still raining. When we opened our shutters, we found total chaos. The cats were disturbed, and there was also water entrance, wide open windows and dampness from top to bottom. We calmed the animals down and fed them. Afterwards, we tried to make a little bit of air moving around everywhere, even though the blinds could not be pulled up, as it was still heavily blowing and raining. EVERYTHING was completely wet! The furniture, the electronic appliances, clothes, beds, mattresses and all the wall were covered with tiny parts of wet leaves.
Before the Hurricane (approximately after every power failure) we had asked our landlord for a hand crank for the blinds, because in the event of a power failure, they could not be opened and we were caught apartment. Just before IRMA, we had written an email and they had answered, that someone would bring us a shank. Nothing happened! The same happened to all the neighbours, who were freed only by us. We ran downstairs towards the neighbours while it was still raining. We shouted and knocked at the shutters, but none could open it themselves. Thommy opened one shutter after the other and one after another came crawling out of his apartment and told about their experiences. All were fine, but the roofs had holes, their windows had also been opened, and some of them had even rocks inside the that were flown into the house, or even wooden boards that came thru the roof and got stuck in the opposite wall of the room. They could have been dead! Everyone agreed that a 12-hour hell trip was behind us and it was a hurricane in an unprecedented intensity. The description category 5 was no longer sufficient. We had no comparison, after all IRMA was our first hurricane.
IRMA had cost people’s lives, ruined businesses, made people homeless and swept every green leaf off the island.
Finally the wind had subsided, leaving us completely exhausted from the hardships, so that we fell asleep on the only dry bed we had.. When we were awake, it was getting dark. Electricity and water did not work, of course, and we started to cook some scrambled eggs on our gas cooker. It still blew so strongly that you could not open the shutters yet, especially since you had to leave them down for security reasons. Nobody knew when we would get electricity back again … Toward six pm it was dark again and we went exhausted to bed. Again, we had to share a mattress as all the others were soaked. The wind whistled all night …. I couldn’t stand hearing it anymore ….