It could have been two days after Hurricane Irma battered our island of St Marteen when we were finally allowed to see the extent of the damage outside. At first, we had planned to stay in our apartment thinking it wouldn’t happen, that Irma wouldn’t be able to strengthen to a category 5 hurricane. After-all we were used to hearing of storms in the area that would dissipate or make landfall elsewhere. We had heard stories of Hurricane Luis that hit the island in 1995, and on my daily walks with Bear, I could see the reminders in the abandoned buildings, and barren palm tree trunks left from Luis, that St. Marteen wasn’t completely safe from natural disasters.
In the days leading up to Irma I had a feeling that lead me to buy and stock our apartment with water, to packing our hurricane kit with non-perishable foods, and two weeks worth of kibble for Bear. But the toughest part was persuading my Fiancé that Irma wasn’t going to be a typical storm, and after a bit of arguing and reasoning (and the water being shut off) we made up our minds to go to his Medical School’s Building 2 for shelter with our dog Bear.
As the storm made landfall I watched Irma’s wrath throughout the night and into the next day from the windows we had slept by seeing only shadows of palm trees moving in a white abyss, conditions one of my friends described as “like being in a blender”. Our first glimpse of Irma’s aftermath was again through the windows overlooking the campus grounds. We could see debris strewn about, uprooted plants, palm trees snapped in half, to cars pushed about. From a window on the third floor of Building 2 I could see the roof of our apartment complex, but had no idea what the extent of damage was. When we were finally allowed to leave campus grounds (with an implemented curfew to be back on AUC grounds) we had no idea what to expect or who we would meet. We heard rumours that involved people looting and wielding machetes, which of course didn’t sit well when we decided to make our way back to our apartment to collect some of our belongings and necessities.
Our walk wasn’t far from campus, but I remember how hard my heart was racing, and how anxious I was thinking someone could be in our apartment in case they found it to be a safe spot since we left it, or who we’d run into along the way looking for trouble. But, when we made it to our home we were met with our neighbours (non- AUC students) who had stayed in their apartments, and were now sitting outside to escape the heat. I could see that they made a makeshift grill for cooking on cement blocks. I was relieved my neighbours were all safe, because not every building in the area was standing, even cement buildings became a victim of Irma. Surprisingly our apartment didn’t sustain one broken window, but a refrigerator had managed to fall onto the second-floor balcony from a neighbouring third floor apartment. When we finally opened our apartment door there was dirt and water everywhere. Not bad at all considering the circumstances. With the sun setting in a few short hours we decided to hurry up with the tasks we had in mind, we collected some necessities and water bottles and threw them into garbage bags slinging the bags over our shoulders, and began to haul them back to campus. With a sickening feeling of disbelief, we made the trip a few more times back to the place we considered home for a year, not believing much of what had happened was reality- only a few days before the hurricane had hit we were enjoying a semester break touring the island, eating French pastries, and hiking with Bear.
In those moments of “ransacking our apartment” to hauling some of our belongings away, it felt like something from a script in The Walking Dead, Sans zombies. I will always remember seeing buildings in ruin, cars rolled over, and people looking uncertain of what was to come.