The Aftermath of Hurricane Irma

I couldn’t sleep. It was the worst night of my life, living in anticipation if we would survive this storm.

After hours had passed and after Irma’s eye left us, we slowly crept out of our safe little hole. What we laid our eyes on was like nothing we ever expected. Yes, we weathered the storm and knew the winds were strong, cars were being turned, water was coming through the windows, but we still were not prepared for what we were going to lay our eyes on and the damage that had just occurred on our little island. I suppose it was us being naive from never experiencing something so horrific and I have no idea what we expected to see when we open that door {that was already water logged and barely opening}.

After managing to pry the door open about 5 inches and move our porch awning from blocking the door from opening, the hubs and my dad slowly crept outside to survey the damage. Being the zesty woman I am, I strapped Lola to me in the carrier and marched outside as well – it WAS after all my island too and I HAD just been locked inside for over 24 hours, I NEEDED to see what just happened.

Nothing could have prepared me for what was unfolding in front of me…

It was devastation like I had never seen before. Our once beautiful island home, gorgeous with cascading palm trees and coconuts, iguanas crawling, birds flying and beautiful clear, blue waters slowly rolling onto the shore – now snapped in half and coconuts turned into deadly baseballs through every visible window. Car alarms were going off, the shore drowned by the roaring beach waves and once stone barrier walls, demolished.

Everything is either 1.) ripped to shreds, 2.) you can see completely through it (buildings and such), 3.) OR you got lucky and had an angel wrapped around you. In our case we had two amazing angels wrapped around us and God had mercy on our little island home. Others around us were not as lucky. In our complex someone had unstoppable flooding, another with constant electrical fires, another with the roof ripped from over their heads as they escaped to the clubhouse library during the eye of Irma. Because the roof above our unit was ripped off, the flooding they had caused our unit to have a few repercussions – with window leaks and leaking through the ceiling electrical units.

Moana seemed to be the only thing to keep Lola content and I company while the hubs and my dad held the door through the 200mph wind gusts during the strongest 3 hours of the storm.

As we walked through the unrecognizable property we only called home for a few short days, I felt so helpless and small. How lucky were we to come out unscathed and without loss when there were hundreds of deaths across the island? We explored {like everyone else} the area – seeing completely through buildings, draperies flying out of shattered 10th story condos, cars piled atop of each other like they were placed there by the hand of God himself. It was astonishing and breathtaking. Books, clothing, baby toys, food, everything just scattered about – none of it felt real. We made our way to the school to tell them we were safe and check in for an update, an evacuation plan, anything – yet there was nothing.

The life I was prepared to live on the island was no more. The buzz and conversation amongst students and staff was that we would not be able to live or have school there for at least a year {So you can imagine our unhappy surprise when we were told we would be returning only 4 short months later}. 4 days after she hit, we were told we had to spend the night at the {crowded, emotionally tolling} school. Good thing we listened, because at 4am we were woken up to women and children being evacuated asap by US Air Force. We went straight to what was left of the airport, surrounded by Dutch marines. It was sickening seeing the tourists all there with their 2 jumbo suitcases each and berating the marines as to why their suitcase couldn’t come on the evacuation cargo planes, while the Marines calmy explained that they could instead fit 2 additional civilians on the evacuation plane… and then the tourists trying to bribe with the jewelry they were wearing. We were only allowed to leave with a shoulder bag and our babies. If you have EVER traveled with a baby, you know that diapers, a sippy cup, passports, and a blanky take up exactly that much space and that’s all we left the island with.

When the hubs dropped me off at the airfield, I honestly had no idea when I would see him again. I just sat there holding back every tear I could because I knew if I let it go I wouldn’t be strong anymore. That I wouldn’t ‘make it’ to the end. I HAD to be strong because I was ‘the new girl’ only being on the island a few days, I had no one I could be comforted by, only my husband or my dad because they were the only ones that truly knew what we had all just been through.

Surrounded by all of these med school momma’s, each had their own small breakdown, but for the most part I think we were just in survival mode. For the next few days, the only support we all had was each other. These women became the strongest and largest support system I had. None of us had any contact with the outside world at this point. We had no idea our family, friends and tribes back home were hard at work in supporting us, so we had to lean on each other. As the Marines snatched suitcases and bags from our hands and asked us “Do you want your LIFE or your STUFF,” we calmed and comforted each other after, truly understanding what it feels like to loose everything.

The cargo plane was everything that I imagined – loud, full of netting, and stone faced military. I love those men so very much {even when I asked the airmen where we were going and he refused to tell me}. I had never been so happy to turn on my phone and see that we were landing in San Jaun, Puerto Rico. We were one step closer to home, but just missing our husbands and not knowing what to do next. Together, we had a tearful and earth shattering welcome to Puerto Rico. We were welcomed with open arms, food, and an enormous donation room.

If you hear nothing from my message, please hear this. I feel as though I can say this because I was once a shallow donator, but after this experience, I will never donate the same way again. Previously, in my pre-Irma life I would look at clothing and think “ehhh, it has a hole in it – DONATE!” Well those on the receiving end of that are not always homeless and happy to take anything. It is people who have just lost everything, who have lived in sweaty, nasty clothing for a few days and who just want to feel an ounce of normal again, like they just want to feel themselves again. While I felt so fortunate to have clothing options, circa 90’s apparel and white washed jeans with holes in them just made me feel more miserable. I’ll never forget the tears that welled in the hubs eyes when he saw 3 strollers in the donation room with the tags still on them. Someone actually thought we were valued enough to buy us something new. It was a joy that I can never explain.

A day later the hubs and my dad arrive in San Jaun. I just remember seeing them and crying. We were all reunited and at the very least we had each other again.

Lola was attached to me in the carrier for over a week, during and after the storm, through the evacuation from St. Maarten, to San Juan, and then through the evacuation to Chicago. It was so upsetting to see the PTSD onset in her, at only one year old. She couldn’t be away or even out of eye sight of me for weeks. Even poor hubs couldn’t sooth her – which was heartbreaking.

We were evacuated to Chicago days later and tearfully welcomed by the Red Cross. My dad quickly got on the phone to get a flight home to Memphis to escape the madness (who can blame him!). The next morning, he and I shared coffee in the hotel lobby and watched Lola run free in the halls while he waited on his taxi. I selfishly didn’t want him to leave because that meant that someone who ‘understood’ wouldn’t be there. He was my normalcy and the only ‘outside world’ contact I wanted and he was leaving us. Lola needed a new diaper so I went to change her. I hurried back but he wasn’t sitting there in our spot. I asked the concierge where he went and he said the taxi came early. That poor, poor concierge when I started bawling crying yelling “NO!” Thank goodness the hubs was running down the hall at the same time to hug me {very prince charming esq}. My dad couldn’t possibly leave without me saying goodbye. My head was completely ridden with PTSD – what if I never see him again, what if something happens at the airport, what if we have to get evacuated again – all things that a typical person wouldn’t normally think. It was one of the hardest moments post storm.

4 hotels and 3 countries in 4 days. We were being shuffled around so much it was horrific. After the storm we all (the momma’s and families) felt so fragile, so homeless and so helpless. It was so scary not knowing when we would have to pack our bags and leave again. It made the PTSD so real and tangible, causing many of us to stay in a constant state of fear. When we moved to our 4th hotel I just remember the hubs and I eating like it was the last supper. “Slow down” he would say, but with the limited rations on the island, I had no idea when I would have access to food again – even though we were in Chicago and food was plentiful. My mind was all types of tangled.

When people found out that we had made it to America I started to get bombarded with calls and texts, of which I had no idea how to handle. I didn’t know how to talk to people outside of this experience and I never though I deserved all of the attention I was getting. I was embarrassed.

They kept asking what we needed and how they could help and I honestly had no idea what to tell them. The thousands of dollars we lost in a few days and the preparations we would need for a move to a completely opposite climate had not even occurred to me. Part of me was completely mortified having to accept donations and the other part was overjoyed with gratitude that so many loved and supported us. The only thing I could truly comprehend was that I arrived in shorts, a sports bra and a sleeveless shirt and it was 30-40 degrees colder in Chicago. We had no clothing to prepare us for the climate we just arrived in. Poor Lola was wrapped in a donation blanket until we could get transportation to a store to buy clothing.

2 weeks after living in Chicago, we were told that we will be moving to England at the end of the month. The instability and lack of clarity made the situation so much worse, especially those with kids and families. The anxiety of not knowing where in England, when, how, any details whatsoever was sickening. I couldn’t eat, sleep, I had constant nightmares about being woken and having to leave in the middle of the night because of the lack of information from the institution. I constantly felt as though they would storm our rooms, make us pack our bags in 30 minutes and board a bus for the unknown. It was a horrific saga to the already horrible experience and it was never ending.

Blind faith is the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I had been robbed of my freedom and deprived of my ability to obtain information for my family. When the announcement of the move to the UK came out, there was absolutely no information about where we were going, housing, how long and if Lola and I can stay. It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve been subjected to but all we can do is be submissive to their lack of information and hope they have our interest in mind {which I’m almost certain they don’t have} as the hubs works to obtain the medical education they have promised him.

2 weeks after living in another hotel in Preston, UK, we find a flat {on our own mind you, cough cough}. We’re making the best of the situation and love exploring our little english town. We will be stronger and the hubs will be a better MD because of this experience.

Enough sadness for now. Kisses

-XO, the WCW

How I would prepare differently for a storm:

  • Always have extra caffine in stock.
    • Because Irma hit in the extremely early morning and ended at about 10am, our minds we set to ‘in the morning we drink coffee’. Not to be too crude, but the reality is that coffee is a diuretic, we all know this. We had 3 adults in desperate need of caffeine (and chill pills!) and all in fear of coffee ‘setting in’ – with no water on the island and being confided to a 1 bedroom apartment, things were a little… complicated. In a do over, I would have had more Coke, Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke stocked for the little jolts of caffeine we needed. Our complex had a generator but not knowing about power would also fault any option of coffee.
  • Consider your home.
    • I filled all of our pots on the stove with water, but what I did not consider is that our stove was gas. When the power lines are all over the ground outside, oil is leaking into the ocean, it is not smart to turn on gas. You have absolutely no idea where leaks are or what is going on in the pipes, so although I couldn’t heat up water to make macaroni or something, we still had extra water at the ready.
  • Water supply
    • While we had plenty of water stocked up, we had it in smaller water bottles and not gallon jugs. A gallon jug would have made filling the toilet and showering much easier.
    • When it was safe to go outside, any water bottles that we went through during the storm I saved and put in the bathroom. We filled those empty bottles with pool water so we didn’t waste fresh water, in order to flush.

Before & After Pictures


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