The following is the first of a four-part series dedicated to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which devastated the Caribbean island of St. Martin and damaged many others in September 2017. Here we share stories from the locals and travelers that lived through the event and its repercussions.
Kerry Ann Bostic is 28 years old and lives in Trinidad and Tobago. Her annual travel group consists of her boyfriend, Nikolai, Nikolai’s mother, and his two cousins and their boyfriends. Having enjoyed a successful trip to St. Martin in 2016, the group decided to book again with Luxury Retreats this past summer. They stayed at La Bastide villa, a Moroccan-style mansion facing the sea.
The group landed on St. Martin on Wednesday, August 30th and first heard about the prospects of Hurricane Irma two days later. The vacation had already got off to a slow start when Nikolai fell ill, ultimately deciding to fly back to Trinidad with his mother to receive medical treatment. The rest of the group stayed on the island, unaware of the magnitude of the storm that was due to hit. Here’s how the story unfolded, as told by Kerry Ann:
Saturday, September 2nd
“On Saturday, Caroline (our Concierge) and our housekeeper, Thelma, told us we were going to have a really bad tropical storm; but it wasn’t yet being referred to as a hurricane. They suggested we go out and buy food to get prepared. But here’s the thing: Trinidadians are very nonchalant about a lot of things! We’re on hurricane watch all the time in Trinidad, and every time, we limin’—that means we chillin’. So we weren’t really taking it seriously! That changed on Sunday, September 3rd. By that time it was a Category Five hurricane and it was directly in our path.”
Sunday, September 3rd
“We tried to get on a flight out, but they were all booked. Caroline started to remove things from pool chairs to fans from the villa. Finally, we decided it would be a good idea to go to the grocery store to buy some water and food like she had told us. Our family had an argument over how much water we needed because we still didn’t realize how serious it was. When we got back to our villa, I started to research Hurricane Irma online, I finally started to grasp how scary it was going to be.”
Tuesday, September 5th
“This was the day the hurricane was meant to hit. That morning, Meghann Cundall, the General Manager of Carimo, a Luxury Retreats subsidiary, came to Villa La Bastide and immediately evacuated us. She told us we needed to get somewhere safer. So we went to another villa—La Favorita—that had hurricane shutters, was on a hill, and the layout of the house was better for our group. We felt much safer there. During the day, while we were preparing for the hurricane to hit, we decided to take a swim in the pool! That’s how relaxed we were.”
Wednesday, September 6th
“By the early morning, the heavy winds started. We all piled into the living room area which is connected to the bathrooms and the kitchen. I was worried about the roof because if it were to come down, all the furniture would start moving around and we might be dead. In fact, the living room ended up being the most secure part of the entire house because the roof stayed put the whole time.
When the hurricane first started, we could see trees falling outside our windows, and the neighbor’s roof blew off and into our yard. There were solar panels, satellite dishes and wires in our yard and all our ears started to pop as if we were on an airplane, only 10 times worse.The front doors to the living room blew completely open so we ran to block them shut with a dresser and a couch. We took plants, vases, and anything heavy we could find to pile on top of the couch so it would stay in place. I believe that saved our lives because if that door was open, the glass in the windows would have shattered and the roof may have fallen on us.
After the first part of the storm passed over, it became very calm. We were in the eye of the hurricane and we knew we had about an hour before the storm would be back. Sure enough, soon the winds and rain started hitting the other side of the house. The second part of the hurricane was worse; I was standing up and praying for the entire time—it was the only thing I felt I could do.
When the winds finally started to subside—about six hours after it had all started—we looked around and said to one another, “We actually survived.” Our villa had a view of the ocean, and the waves were so high—some of our neighbors on the beachfront were in their homes as well and we were so worried about them. From above, it looked as though the waves were covering the houses. We imagined the worst for whoever was in those homes.
As soon as the storm ended, we started cleaning up as best we could. That night, we slept on pool furniture we had set up in the living room.”
Thursday, September 7
“The next day, we barely knew the extent of what was going on. None of us had any cell phone reception, though we did have power once our generator kicked in. Our family and friends back home were watching the news coverage, so they knew more than we did. In the morning, we heard a knock on our door. It was Meghann, her father, and her dog. She was so happy to see us in good condition. She was so hospitable, it was incredible! She told us how to get to the home in which she was staying if we needed anything, and promised she would check back on us regularly. Then she carried on her route, checking on all other Luxury Retreats guests on the island.
We heard there was a construction site where we could possibly get cellular service. We walked about 45 minutes to get there to try and get in touch with people back home. Everything around us was totally destroyed; there were no leaves on the trees, everything was mashed up, people were driving around in totaled cars. It was shocking.I remembered that Meghann had told me to face the ocean when you want to get service, so that’s what I did. I dialed Nikolai’s number, but I wasn’t getting through. The call dropped six or seven times. The eighth time I dialed, there was about 30 seconds of silence—and then it started to ring. I started to yell to my friends down the road and they started running towards me! When he answered the phone, I just broke down in tears. I couldn’t even speak when he answered the phone.
Friday, September 8
“By Friday, we had running water, we had hot water, we had electricity, we had books to read and games to play. That’s how we spent our day.”
Saturday, September 9
“We discovered on Saturday that our water supply was cut off. We had run out of bottled water by this time, so we were flush out. We went out into the yard and found a pipe and decided to fill our bottles from that. The water was brown but we considered drinking it. Luckily, right then Meghann showed up and told us in no uncertain terms, “Do not drink that water! It’s contaminated.”
She told us to pack up our stuff and move into the villa where she was staying: La Provencale. Meghann had rounded up a total of 30 people that were all staying there! They had a generator and lots of food, and the company was good. There were kids, there were dogs—we even had a birthday party for a woman named Cassie. It was a humbling experience speaking with one of the ladies staying there, Donna, a Carimo Concierge whose family had lost everything. We still had everything. We had our luggage and we were going back home to Trinidad where we still had our homes.”
Sunday, September 10
“ We spent the day hoping to get a flight out of St. Martin with Meghann’s help, but we were not able to. The situation was getting to be too much.”
Monday, September 11
“Meghann caught wind of the fact there was a plane evacuating to Trinidad. I don’t even remember brushing my teeth that morning—we just jumped into Meghann’s car so she could take us to the airport. Meghann was supposed to drive her parents too, but she took us first. That’s how much she cared!
The ride to the airport was shocking. On our way, we passed by the villa in which we had stayed the previous year for my birthday. It was totally destroyed. You could see straight through the building from the street. The night before the hurricane hit, we had gone to a casino. The casino was now flattened. The only thing on that street that was still standing was the American Medical University in Cupecoy. We could only imagine how long it was going to take for the island to recover.When we got to the airport, we stood in line and got our names on a list. It took hours, but we were eventually able to find out about a helicopter going to Antigua. The only problem was we couldn’t bring our luggage. I didn’t care! I would have given away all my luggage in order to get on this helicopter, but Meghann insisted on keeping it so she could send it back to us. I didn’t believe that was possible, but I didn’t care. I was committed to losing my luggage! They were rationing water bottles, so we were only able to get one water bottle for our entire group. The sun was hot, the air was dry, and there was no breeze. It was humid like the desert all day, and all we had was one water bottle for all of us! We finally got on the last flight of the day. That was my first helicopter ride, so I got to scratch something off my bucket list—a small silver lining! From the air, we were able to see all the devastation. It was even worse to look at from the air than it was from ground level because you see everything: trampled cars, houses with no roofs, destroyed buildings. It was bittersweet because we were heading to safety, but we were also leaving Meghann and our other ‘housemates’ behind knowing they had nothing.
By the time we got to Antigua, Luxury Retreats had checked us into a hotel where we stayed for a few more days before we could get back to Trinidad. Last week, we received a box from Meghann. It was my luggage—just like she promised. I thought that was a miracle!
“It took us all a while to get back to normal – just to grasp the fact that we were home and safe. For three nights after I got home, I had nightmares that I was in a hurricane. It was a process, but we were surrounded by family and friends and just focused on getting back into a routine. When I finally got back online I saw all these messages from people trying to get me home. They even had a hashtag—#BringKerryHome.
Now, everyone’s okay and everything’s good. My boyfriend and his mother have insisted: “Anytime we travel, we travelin’ with Luxury Retreats.” His mother asked me if they have villas all over the world and I told her they do. She’s already planning our next trip to St. Lucia! I was really proud of the kind of service we received—exceptional, incredible service.
I don’t regret going through what I went through. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have met all these genuinely caring, kind-hearted people. They were on the verge of losing everything and they were still taking care of other people. They were still aware of their job. Meghann did her job above everything. It was just incredible… It was just incredible. And I just hope everyone is okay.”
All photos courtesy of Ayman Abedi
St. Martin Lowlands Hurricane Relief Project
Created in response to the crisis conditions on St. Martin in the weeks following the hurricane, SXMProject is dedicated to bringing immediate humanitarian relief and long-term economic redevelopment to financially distressed workers in the Terres Basses and Dutch-Lowlands regions of St. Martin. If you would like to contribute to help rebuild the lives of those on the island you can find more information here.