Today marks one year since Hurricane Irma. One year since this storm wreaked havoc on my beautiful island. One year since St. Maarten was changed forever.
One year since the storm from hell.
My memory of it all seems jumbled together, as that's what often happens in hard times. I remember the day before as the storm was getting closer and closer to the island. My family group chat kept buzzing as everyone helped each other prepare for the storm, living in the Caribbean this is what we do. I've went through several hurricanes in my short life time and people on the island had gone through more and worst. Everyone in my family said that they were ready, and then the unthinkable happened.
The storm strengthened even more, it was now a Category 5, the strongest of all the categories. I could never explain the fear the swept over my body as I heard this, this wasn't a regular storm, this wasn't like the hurricanes that I experienced in my childhood, this was deadly.
I was in my dorm room going through all this, not only was I away from my family on the island but I was also away from my mom and my brothers. Yet I still had fate that the storm would calm before hitting the island....it strengthened.
I woke up to a nightmare.
Social media was flooded with messages of people concerned over their family members, some were on the phone with them as their roofs were ripped from their houses. Pictures were posted that were unrecognizable to me. Was this my island?
And my family? Communication was gone. Never had silence been that frightening.
Pictures continue to be posted. Airport gone. Boardwalk gone. Houses gone. Cars on top of other cars. Trees torn down. Buildings on the ground.
People were frantic to hear from their loved ones. Slowly I began to hear from some of my family that found a way to get signal. They sent messages "so and so is ok, this family is accounted for" and so on. My brave cousins went house to house to insure that everyone was ok.
But my dad and my grandmother? No word from them. No word from the whole of French Cul De Sac. All I knew is that it was hit the hardest. Fear isn't even the word that could describe my emotions. I had a panic attack. I cried until I couldn't cry anymore.
I couldn't stop my mind from thinking of the worst case possible.
We took to Facebook and other social medias asking for information on them! Anything! I went to sleep that night still not knowing a thing.
Finally the next day we got a call and heard that they were alive and well! The sense of relief was so great. And then came the next hard part....the pictures of my home. Or what used to be of my home.
My childhood home was completely destroyed but at that moment as I looked at those pictures I couldn't be anything but grateful that my dad and grandmother had made it out of that house alive!
I was also waiting for hear from my best friend Sara, she told me the hotel that she was staying at for safety, and then I saw videos of that same hotel on Facebook as water rushed through the lobby and doors were broken open. I was so grateful when I heard that she was ok!
The scary parts were over, but now came the hard part: restoring order to the island, rebuilding, and getting food and water to everyone. The French and Dutch armies were on the island but there were reports of looting. I prayed that my family would stay save and have the supplies they needed. The days went on and more damages were reported and some deaths were reported as well.
The damages were more than I could ever imagine. Our next step was to find a way to get my vulnerable little cousins off the island, they were able to evacuate and stayed with us for a few months so they were able to go to school while the grown ups stayed back to clean and rebuild.
Going through all this was not easy. Every single St. Maartener now has their unique story of Hurricane Irma, but I'll say that those who were on the island and those were not felt the same pain. It literally broke my heart to see my island like that. My island means more to me than words could say and I truly was in grief, it felt as though I lost a loved one because it felt like I had lost my island.
I was wrong. I didn't lose my island, in fact we have only gotten stronger from this experience. I am so proud of my people and I am proud to be a St. Maartener.
They say pictures say 1,000 words....here are some images from 9/6/17
To all the St. Maarteners, I encourage you to share or write your Irma story. It was a hard but therapeutic experience to go back and relive what happened. I am so proud of all of you for the strength that everyone showed during the time, and the many fundraisers and drives that everyone did.
I learned many things from this experience. I learned how strong I was. I learned how capable I was of taking leadership in difficult moments. I learned not to value material things and to be grateful for lives.
I learned that you NEVER know what others are going through, so be sensitive, be open, and be kind.
It took a lot for me to share this but I know that it was worth telling.