Preparing for Hurricane Irma

It has been almost three months since we escaped Hurricane Irma and her wrath over our new little home in St. Maarten. Even though a bit of time has passed, it is still difficult to put into words all that we experienced during the super storm and in the aftermath.

We had just nestled into our new home. I was scurrying around town buying food, kitchen supplies, candles, garbage bags, all of the random things you need to establish and make a home somewhere. Casually, I heard someone ask me if I was buying things for the storm that’s coming, but I didn’t think much of it. I had too many things on my list and a ‘storm’ just wasn’t one of them. My dad was arriving in a few days and I needed our new home to look like I had it all together. I’m a southern girl, so a candle must be burning and the fridge and pantry stocked when guests arrive, so I was on a mission.

Later that afternoon, hubs was telling me about his day and again I hear about this storm. My ears perked up and I asked him what was going on (at this point we do not have our internet or tv hooked up so I have no connection with the outside world). Evidently there was a hurricane headed our way, but the school doesn’t seem to think it’s going to be that big of a deal so we just talk about what we need to do to prepare and continue on with our day. We head to the beach and have a great time. Little did we know it would be our only time as a family walking those beaches.

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Each day Irma was getting stronger in the Atlantic and we were praying she would change paths and only give us some gentle rain. Those days before the storm, we contemplated evacuating each day, but were constantly told “it’s not going to be THAT bad, you’ll be fine.” The day before the storm hit we started to realize that she was amounting to be much more than a ‘simple storm’ and we needed to make some decisions… were we going to stay in our apartment? Do we have enough supplies? Should we seek shelter at the school? Should we fly out?

Our questions quickly found answers – Our place is safe. We are boarded up, the complex is preparing by cutting down trees, removing all possible debris, we’re not facing the storm (we’re on the backside of a building and wouldn’t receive direct impact), and we felt as though it would be much easier on Lola to be in a familiar place. The school, we thought, would just be chaos and would add undue anxiety and stress to the situation. A panic that we didn’t think was healthy with 700 students running around.

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I had ventured out to the store daily in our week on the island. Mostly to make our new place a home, grabbing nick-knacks, paper towels, dish soap, all the things you need when moving somewhere new. Even though the island wasn’t preparing for a mega storm, me (with my good ole’ southern nature) knew ‘best to be prepared, than not at all’. After all, we WOULD drink the water and eat the food I was buying in drastic surplus, so why not just go ahead and buy it? Right? Well the eye rolls, “Americans {insert smug eye roll with sigh and laugh}” comments, and rental car was completely worth it. I had unknowingly prepared extremely well for this mega storm, while others sadly did not.
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I also looked up evacuation flights. I had heard, after all, that many airlines added 4 and 5 flights that last day to evacuate people off the island, so it couldn’t be too difficult to get flights, could it? Well it seems that airlines should sit in the corner and think about what they did – because to fly myself, Lola, hubs and my dad off the island would be many $5-6 thousand dollars. When the day prior the same flights to Miami would have been $150-300 each. Shame on them for capitalizing on the natural disaster barreling towards us.
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I’ve never been through a hurricane. I had no idea how to prepare, what to expect or how to handle the ‘after’. Our property was amazing. They were ready. They were scurrying around like little ants picking up the land and boarding everything in sight up. Owners were collecting coconuts and taping windows every where I turned. It never would have crossed my mind to collect coconuts, but imagine those little healthy balls taking flight in 200mph winds. They’re like softballs. REAAALLY fast, strong softballs.  As soon as the storm was reclassified and we knew St. Maarten would be in the direct line, it’s like the entire property went into motion to prepare. It was fascinating to watch.
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The storm was set to hit extremely early in the morning (3-4am) and the island was cutting off water at about 6:00pm the night prior. Around lunch time on the eve of the storm I began preparing.

  • I made sure all laundry was done, had clean/dry towels at the ready by the door where I thought there may be water.
  • Cleaned and put away all dishes
  • Filled pots on the stove (which turned out to be a good and a bad thing. Good – because we had extra water. Bad – because we could not turn on the gas to boil the water in the event there was a gas leak or something.).
  • If you have a bath tub, fill it. We only had a shower so that wasn’t an option for us. You will be able to use this water to bathe your kiddo’s, yourself or to fill the toilet tank in order to flush. This is extremely important in preparing.
  • Charged all devices and battery packs
  • Make as many ice cube bags as possible (we had old school ice trays so as soon as the cubes were semi frozen, I popped them out and filled as many gallon ziplock bags as possible with ice cubes. I knew we would need these to keep food cold. I pat myself on the back for starting that days early.)
  • I set out a full, clean outfit for each of us so I could grab them if needed.
  • I packed a ‘go bag’ with all of our necessities.
    • I used the plastic bag (with zipper) that our new sheets came in and put all of our important paperwork (passports, lease, birth certificate, marriage license, drivers licenses, medical records, etc.)
    • phone chargers and battery packs
    • diapers & wipes
  • Moved everything away from all doors, windows and cracks.
  • Collected pool noodles and had them ready by the door (Towels last longer if you wrap them around pool noodles and stuff them at the door threshold. Picture at bottom of page. It helps to divert the water outside.).
  • We also started a thread on the school’s student Facebook page where we listed every person staying off campus, the address, names of everyone and age, allergies, and health conditions. When you were safe you were to post ‘Safe’. This was amazing, so we could make sure everyone was accounted for. Wasn’t great in that we lost all internet and could not post, but better safe than sorry so people knew where we were.
  • Lastly, I made sure my whole crew had showers and were cleaned up.

I wanted to have 10 gallons of water per person and I probably recounted our water every hour. I had 40 gallons of water stocked and ready, as well as a full fridge.

At the last minute we decided that it would be safest to bring our mattress into the living room to sleep. We had a wall of windows in our room, but even though they were facing away from the storm, guarded by large bushes, trees and plants, and were hurricane safe – we didn’t fancy the idea of being woken up with a tree through the window. Better to be safe than sorry.

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I don’t think I slept a wink that night. I just remember laying, holding Lola as tight as she would let me, praying and listening to the wind howl all night long, knowing that i desperately needed to get sleep because I would be up early with the storm. It was the most terrifying night of my life – not knowing what the next 24 hours would hold for us and being unsure if we would make it out of our home without damage or injury.


She was finally here, Irma had arrived. Around 4am the winds were stronger and things started flying in the air. Palm trees were starting to bend so far they were touching the ground. You could hear the scrapping of metal begin peeling like sardine cans and then dragging across the ground. Car alarms filled the air and the rushing sound of water was everywhere.
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I was terrified of so many things. I was worried about the ocean rising and the waves flooding us since we were right on the cliffs of the beach. Yes, we were on very high ground but my last visual of the waves were two stories high so I kept thinking they would rise onto the property. I was worried about our doors being taken out by the wind. It was so important that hubs was holding the door because if not, they would have immediately been ripped out and everything inside would have been blown away or sucked out. Windows would have busted from the pressure inside and it would have completely flooded. I was so scared watching them hold that door – the two most important men in my life just a boarded door away from a super storm that had absolutely no mercy.
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I just sat there, against the wall, holding Lola and praying. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I prayed for all of those people who thought I was silly in the grocery store that were not prepared for Irma. For the people on the island in their shacks with no protection whatsoever. I prayed that Lola wouldn’t remember and I prayed that God would have mercy on this little island that had not seen a hurricane in 20 something years.
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6:30am we were in the eye of Irma. I laugh now but that was the earliest I have ever seen beers being popped. The hubs and my dad had been holding the door shut for 2 hours and they were exhausted. They knew they had the second wall of the storm coming and would have to be back at it, holding the door for another 2 hours so they better take the 45 minutes she was providing and try to relax for a moment. Anxiety and nerves were so heightened it felt like one small thing would make any of us burst into tears.
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It was calm but still very windy. I tried to open our door to see out at the damage she caused from the first half of the storm but our door was barricaded shut by our porch awning that had fallen. I’m peeking out of the 2 inch wide crack our door would allow and I see our security guard pointing over our apartment building, with her hand over her mouth crying out “oh my God, oh my God!” I was sick to my stomach and scared for my life. I had no idea what had happened behind us. I spent the next 3 hours wondering what was happening  just behind us.
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As the wind and rain started to pick up, it was time for the second wall of the storm. The hubs got into position at the door and we went through it all over again, praying it would go quickly.
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In the end, we had minor damage to our apartment. The scariest thing was the water coming through the ceiling fixtures in our bedroom. We were fearful of an electrical shortage so we didn’t turn on the lights in that room. We also didn’t touch the gas stove because we had no idea if there was any damage outside. In the end, we were extremely lucky and blessed to have made it safely through such a super storm. The rest of the island did not fare so well…
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The follow-up to this post will be posted in the next few days.
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If you are reading this in preparation of a storm, may God be with you and protect you.
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XO- the WCW
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