Starting September 5 until the 13th, our series of events of surviving the eye of Hurricane Irma, followed by the 8 days of being concerned about our safety, the looters, curfews, and the struggle afterwards.
Hurricane Irma was 1 of the most destructive category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic that passed directly over the top of Tortola, British Virgin Island with max sustained wind speeds of 185mph/297kmh, wind gusts of 225 mph/362kmh on September 6, 2017 destroying everything in its pathway. Find out what hurricane survival tips we wish we new before Hurricane Irma!
Tortola, British Virgin Islands Lat: 18.43N Long: 64.63W
September 5th, 2017 @ 14:00 – We started recording the details of hurricane Irma on paper. We learned that this is the best method to track its path and potential path Lat: 16.9N Long: 59.1W. Max. Sustained Winds 185 mph/298 km. Category 5
5/9/17 @ 17:00 – Lat: 17.1N Long: 59.8W. Max. Sustained Winds 185 mph/298 km. Movement 15mph. Cat. 5
5/9/17 @ 20:00 – Lat: 17.2N Long: 60.5W. Max. Sustained Winds 185 mph/298 km. Movement 15mph. Cat. 5
5/9/17 @ 23:00 – Lat: 17.4N Long: 61.1W. Max. Sustained Winds 185 mph/298 km. Min. Central Pressure 916mb. Movement 15mph. Category 5
September 6th, 2017 @ 4:18 – Power to the island has been shut off. Awake for the day, awaiting the arrival of the hurricane.
6/9/17 @ 6:00 – Lat: 17.9N Long: 62.6W. Max. Sustained Winds 185 mph/298 km. Min. Central Pressure 914mb. Movement 16mph. Category 5
6/9/17 @ 8:00 – Lat: 18.1N Long: 63.3W. Max. Sustained Winds 185 mph/298 km. Min. Central Pressure 918mb. Movement 16mph WNW. Category 5. It’s windy, but nothing much out of the ordinary. Not much for clouds or rain.
6/9/17 @ 8:15 – Cell phone signal is getting unreliable, and can’t check the status of the hurricane anymore. Becoming windy, and spitting rain.
6/9/17 @ 8:45 – Beef Island is starting to disappear in and out of view. Wind continues and some more rain.
6/9/17 @ 9:15 – The tree branches on the trees beside the deck are starting to break off
6/9/17 @ 9:30 – Found the old radio stashed in the apartment, located an english station 780am, and the weather report!
6/9/17 @ 10:00 – The winds are getting more intense, guesstimation of 80-120 mph wind gusts.
6/9/17 @ 10:30 – ZBVI 780am radio update “currently 156 mph winds with 200+ wind gusts. Direct Impact of Category 5. The strongest hurricane yet in the Atlantic to date. Sea swells of 11-14 feet. Protect life and property.” The palm trees down on the ocean front are underwater, visibility is poor. (Or what we thought was poor at that time).
6/9/17 @ 11:00 – Massive destructive winds are destroying the trees, and whipping them around like a whip. No update from ZBVI 780am radio. Lots of blowing rain, visibility is steadily getting worse. Water is leaking in from all the doors & windows, flooding the bedroom & the main room.
6/9/17 @ 11:30 – Consistently death killing winds are blowing left to right across the 4 foot wide red deck, with exceedingly loud wind gusts. The patio door in the main room was rattling and becoming a threat of getting ripped open by the destructive wind ripping by. We had to tied the patio door in the main room to the front door, and then onto the TV stand, it was the heaviest thing we had access to. The 2nd eaves trough has now blown off the landlords house above us.
Hurricane Survivor Tips - Keep the wind out of the house, close all windows, secure all doors. Preferably from the outside, but the inside works in a pinch. Leave all the doors inside the house open so any wind inside can flow about without wedging doors close. Find out what Hurricane Tips we wish we knew.
6/9/17 @ 11:43 – The power pole is gone! Every few minutes we would originally stare out the windows with such curiosity and excitement (it’s a hurricane right!). The winds were tossing around the shrapnel blowing around in the strong hurricane winds, which risked breaking the windows in the apartment, and our safety of standing near the windows anymore. We would move further and further back from the windows and doors as each gusts would screech louder.
6/9/17 @ 12:00 – No more AM radio station. It’s gone, just static. Hello Category 5. Hello Irma. We just started to realize how much trouble we might be in, how much damage there is and how much trouble we are in as a island.
6/9/17 @ 12:15 – The Wall of White: No visibility, the bright red 4 foot wide deck can no longer be seen from the window. Freight train wind, communication between the 2 of us is a struggle between rooms (we lived in 1 bedroom small apartment). The Fear: the bedroom patio doors are slowing ripping open, we cut the extra rope from the other doors to save bedroom doors. The patio doors where tied to the heavy wood queen size bed frame, only to have it pulled across the bedroom. Where do you tie a bed frame to in your house? Hello toilet. The Hurricane force winds had ripped open the bedroom patio doors about 1/2 foot. With such luck, and faith we were able to force and pull them closed again, resecure to the bed frame, and then the toilet in the other room which we had to hold by hand to keep the slack tight.
This is where we moved our “bug-out-bags”, some food, jugs of water, into the bathroom with us. It had less windows incase they decided to break, and the door could be closed if the other doors give-in to the category 5 hurricane upon us. This is where we prayed for our safety and everyone we know, and everyone else on Tortola and the British Virgin Islands.
Time Check – Every 2 -3 minutes was a quick glance at the patio doors, and windows to address the state of emergency and if we need to make a new move or step to protect our life. The cat has lost its mind, making tons of noise, with some assistance Tyler tossed him in the storage space above the closet to hide. Gail force winds, excruciating loud wind, hiding in the bathroom on the floor, feeling the concrete shutter below us.
6/9/17 @ 12:40ish – The Eye. The landlord came down and banged on the front door, and very excited to see us alive. We stood on the deck in complete “aw”. It’s all gone. The wind is gone, not even a breath of wind. The sun is shinning like any other day in the BVI. It’s all gone, massive devistation as far as we can see. Wooden houses are gone, people crying for help, people out quickly boarding up broken windows and doors. Absolute shock, no one was expecting this level of destruction.
We wanted to see a hurricane, experience the wrath of Mother Nature. I guess you should be careful what you wish for, we NEVER expected to see the eye of a hurricane. And NOT the eye of one of the most powerful hurricanes ever in the Atlantic Ocean.
6/9/17 @ 13:33-13:45 – The Wall of White Returns: The Hurricane wall approaches and comes fast with the gail force winds of 200+ mph/320+ kmh, rain, you can hear the hurricane approaching, changing wind pressure, the fear. The wind is now ripping the other way, right-to-left, and tossing everything that was wedge from before the eye back the other direction. We were lucky our front door was metal, and could withstand everything that was thrown at it.
The category 5 hurricane Irma is back. “Ah Fuck”. This time around with the winds changed direction, our newest challenge was with the patio doors in the main room, and requiring us to hold them with our hands and body weight to keep the tension to prevent the doors from getting pulled open and breaking off its hinges. That’s what we did for an 1 hour, held the doors closed, all while 1 of us would get up every 3 minutes to check on the bedroom patio doors. (Praying they don’t come open).
6/9/17 @ 14:39 – To measure the strength of the hurricane and to determine how slow or fast it is dissipating was measured by the visibility off the deck of the apartment, we could see past the red deck and about 500 feet. We are slowly gaining distance from the eye, and the wind speeds are slowing down. Now they are more like 150 mph rather then 185 mph, small wins! We still continued to hold both the main patio doors and the front door closed with our hands and weight on the rope, sitting on the floor in the water.
6/9/17 @ 15:00 – Damage Control: The wind gusts have lessened to a point when we were not immediately concerned about the doors blowing open or debris blowing around. Only 1 of us is holding the doors closed, now we start sopping up the water in the apartment. Now all we can think about is our friends from work, Sail Caribbean Divers. Really hoping everyone survived.
6/9/17 @ 16:05 – The adventure outside and to the SCD Complex: With reasonable winds “100mph” you would normally experience in a Chinook (only found in Alberta, Canada), we put on our neoprene we wear diving, running shoes, mask, gloves, rain jacket, backpack with supplies: food, water, first-aid, extra clothing.
The view from our deck where you could not see a single person, house or car….we can now see so much that the trees would hide. Not a leaf left, no trees, not even bark. It’s all destroyed. The Jeep is ok, minor damage to the body and paint. Most importantly it’s drivable. The laundry room doors have been ripped off, everything inside is turned upside down. The landlord has unfortunately lost all the windows in the his house upstairs.
6/9/17 @ 16:30 – Game Over: We walked down to Hodges Creek Marina where we worked at Sail Caribbean Divers. It’s fucked. The 26′ dive boat Atlantis is under an upside down 48′ Catamaran. The Pool Room where all the dive equipment is stored has 15+ inches of water, everything is nocked over and sideways. The office has just as much water, all the displays, shelving, book shelves is all laying down in the water or floating. Catamarans are flipped upside down, boats are sunk and/or sinking, or missing all together. Water alarms are going off, the docks are missing where we would normally secure the big dive boat Endeavour. Looks like a pile of toys, only they are million-dollar sail boats. We continue our trek onto the SCD Complex.
Upon arrival to the SCD Complex we find our friends apartment without a roof, the austin-mini is written off, missing doors, broken windows, cars beyond drivable. Unbelievable. We located everyone in 1 place that lived in that area, all lives were spared for those in this area. A sheer surprise to see us show up, excitement to see someone and the joy to know who is alive and well. From there they divided into groups to head out and check on other friends and colleagues.
The Hurricane Hole – Paraquita Bay is fucked: The location where you store hundreds of boats to keep safe from the hurricane and the damaging ocean, all fucked. Everything that was nice and secure was pushed to the left side Paraquita Bay before the eye of the hurricane, and then dragged to the right side after the eye came back. Again, million-dollar boats piled up like kids toys, crammed into the mangroves. Fingers crossed the boats that Sail Caribbean Divers hauled before the storm are ok on the hard at Nanny Cay?!
The status of what we have seen: Not a single power pole is still standing, the power lines are down across the roads and buildings. Catamarans are upside down pretty much everywhere. There is a massive pile of boats at Hodges Creek Marina in the corner, the ones that didn’t sink fast enough. Broken windows and doors on every house, apartment, work place, shed. Water every where, the sandbags didn’t hold at the shop. No water for weeks, maybe even months? Power? Months!!! Months until there is power again! No boats to work on, is there even a tourist season ahead this winter? Do we have job? Massive amounts of clean up ahead for the company lots of hard dirty work. Everything we know and worked for over the last 1.5 years is just taken away in a day. A uncertain future, career, everything. So many questions, no answers. We head back to our place, heads hung low.
September 7, 2017 – The Day After Hurricane Irma: A sleep less night, on the plus side you can’t have nightmares if you don’t sleep. Melissa had discovered that the old Canadian SIM card from TELUS was still activated, and we could connect to the rest of the world! It was called the “Golden Phone”, because we could call or text friends and family in Canada, and our great friend James in the UK whom we work with. We call both our parents, middle of the night with an old phone # to tell them we were alive, and doing well. Up with the sun, welcome to farmer hours. Tidy up the house from the day before. Not much of an appetite for food, ration the water we have. Not sure how long until we could have access to bottled water. Never thought we would worry about water before.
We cleaned up the property, making a pile of broken windows, trees, doors, and everything else that belongs in the trash we piled at the bottom of the property. Picked up the endless amounts of broken glass. We assisted the landlord with putting boards on this patio doors which broken, boarded up all the broken windows on this house. We learned that our landlord survived under the stairwell crawl space with his niece, her 3 year old son, and boyfriend, when the windows started to shatter. Our placed looked really good for them, as everything in their place had been turned upside down, knocked over, water and glass everywhere. A house that is unsafe for a 3 year old to live in.
September 8, 2017 – Round 2 Hurricane Jose: Everyone was aware that Hurricane Jose was following closely behind Hurricane Irma. But without cellphone signal, or anything to connect to the rest of the world, we didn’t know where it was going, and how close it was going to be. We were at no means ready to face another hurricane, not even if it pass by 100 miles away. We used text message from our friend Vicki to provide us with updates so we could track the next hurricane, Jose.
Our colleague from SCD, and good friend James whom was in UK while the hurricane hit the BVI wanted to help us at SCD, he called almost every person we had put down on the emergency contact list for each of the employees at SCD. Only the emergency contacts where called if we knew they were alive and well. Which at this point we knew that almost every signal person from SCD was alive. James called people all the way from Australia to USA, and around the UK. We couldn’t imagine calling so many people, at least it’s positive news.
The British Navy has arrived! Something everyone has been looking forward too. Help, assistance, food, water maybe? They dropped anchor middle of the channel near road town. They did not come onto Tortola, they flew over assessing the damage, at which point they would request what to bring on the next boat over. It was if we were a sick contagious animal, that no one wanted to touch, they were awaiting supplies and back up before they could step foot on the island.
8/9/17 @ 11:21 – Text message from Vicki. 11:00am update. Lat: 16.3N Long 57.1W. Max Sustained Wind Speeds 150 mph, Category 4. Moving at 18 mph WNW. Min. Central Pressure 942 mb. About 500 miles away from the BVI.
8/9/17 @ 14:00 – Text message from Vicki with 14:00 update: Lat: 16.4N Long 57.7W. Max Sustained Wind Speeds 150 mph, Category 4. Moving at 18 mph WNW. Min. Central Pressure 940 mb
8/9/17 @ 17:00 – Text message from Vicki with 17:00 update: Lat: 16.6N Long 58.3W. Max Sustained Wind Speeds 150 mph, Category 4. Moving at 17 mph WNW. Min. Central Pressure 940 mb. Hurricane warning for the North Leeward Islands
September 9, 2017 – Sail Caribbean Divers 10am Meeting: We walked back over to the SCD complex to gather with everyone we call our family abroad. Get to see people we haven’t seen yet, hugs and tears from everyone in the room. We didn’t see Kit & Laura there that day, Matt & Corri made the long trek to make, very happy to see them alive. We have 2 weeks of employment at at time, with an uncertain future at the moment. Discovery (aka Disco) the 36′ dive boat was more less ok, pushed up into the mangroves, damage both other wise on the ground which means she won’t sink. Endeavour the 46′ dive boat, our favourite boat, was on the hard at Nanny Cay for inspection. Now laying on her starboard side, and off the stands, big crack down the haul, other problems and damages; more less ok and saveable. Enterprise the newest 36′ dive boat to our fleet is missing, we assume it’s under the pile of boats on the bottom.
The start of evacuation will be those with medical problems and needs, so the hospital. Next after that will be all the tourist. After that will be anyone else who doesn’t want to be here. 18:00 curfew for everyone on the island because of the hurricane Jose approaching, which is suppose to bring 3-5 inches of rain. And the looting has started.
Today we clear the driveway up to our place, which is on the side of the mountain. Clearing power poles, power lines, branches, trees, tin roofs,100 feet of fence, boards, rocks, dirt, just everything. Work early in the day before it gets too hot out, save the water. We discovered “The Golden Phone” only works on our deck, and no where else. We were extremely lucky for that.
September 10, 2017 – Day 4: No signs of Hurricane Jose, no rain, no wind, nothing. Awoke to a beautiful morning and clear skies. Counted the remaining water we have, enough until Thursday that’s 7 days from now. The food is until next weekend, maybe longer if we stretch it, we are currently only 1 meal a day as of right now. We have started to pack our bags, most important thing we need to take with us is our dive gear. It’s a lively hood, and investment. What we can take with us home might be limited to 1 carry on bag, so we pack accordingly. The British Military have been landing at the Beef Island airport, bringing in troops and supplies so they can get set up. Still haven’t seen any troops on the island thou, they have taken over Beef Island and set up a security stop at the bridge between Tortola and Beef. We seen the last of our coworkers today, Kit & Laura survived. They lost the roof off their apartment, and are moving in with Jay at the SCD Complex. Stronger in numbers.
September 11, 2017 – Monday Morning: The daily curfew is 18:00 until 6:00. There is a work schedule if anyone is interested from 9-12, to avoid the hottest hours of the day, and save water consumption. The new curfew is now 18:00 till 9:00 because the looting is getting worse. We can sit at home in the dark with no candles or lights on, and watch from our deck down on to the houses below us and see people going about from place to place, or wondering around. The SCD has been looted, and is continued to be looted daily, the priority for work today was to board up the doors and windows to keep people out, and salvage anything we can find.
September 12, 2017 – Preparing For Departure: We didn’t work today, it is an absolute struggle to get any information and get correct information about traveling on and off of Tortola by plane or even boat. We need a flight off this rock, we have Melissa’s brothers wedding to attend aka The Wedding Of The Century. It’s 4 days away and counting. The American ambassadors were present at the airport, looking for all and any American who wanted to be evacuated to Puerto Rico. Or any persons with a current US Visa could board that plane to Puerto Rico. Anything for Canadians? The neighbours to the north? Nothing, no answer. No answer from anyone at the airport, just an answer machine when you contact the Canadian government about getting evacuated, no support from the Canadian government, no answers about being evacuated. What sinking feeling, you can’t leave the BVI, only if you are American. Europeans had the option of flying to Antigua on charters.
The airport held no answer for us, our original flight was cancelled because the status of the airport was deemed “unsafe and unsecure” so no commercial airlines could land because of this. However private charter flights were potentially allowed to land in the next day or so. However, came with a hefty perineum price.
The island is starting down the long road of recovery, garbage pickup has started, BVI Electric was assessing the damage. A day of stressing about with flights, employment, living accommodations, money, safety, the wedding, water & food. We headed back to the airport mid afternoon to try again to organize a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico one way or another, checking out our options, hoping for the best. We met our our colleagues who were still waiting at the airport all day to be evacuated out when their flight became available. We were introduced to Eduardo from FLY DIVE, who offered us a flight out of the British Virgin Islands to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The next day around 1:00pm, with what we could carry, and the price? Donations only! Where do we sign up? A picture of each passport, we were signed up.
September 13, 2017 – Alberta Bound: We left the airport the previous day and packed everything we could, starting with the priorities, anything dive related: BCD, regulators, fins & boots, mask, wetsuit(s), teaching slates, side-mount gear, tools, extras, rash guard, gloves, knifes, smb, reels, slates, our daily tools we use each day as a dive instructor. Other items included electronics, the rest? Clothing is replaceable, packed the warmest thing we had for our arrival back in Canada eventually.
Up early, tidy the house best we can with no water usage. Made the bed with fresh clean new sheets, clean white towels, placed all the food on the counter top for the landlord and friends. Stopped by Hodges Creek Marina at Sail Caribbean Divers at 8:00 to say bye to everyone, hand off a key to the Jeep with hopes it will continue its journey. Arrived at the airport at 8:30, and there we waited. Reunited with other friends from work who just like us, wanted to get back to safety of home in the USA, Ireland, Canada, UK, and traveling with what they can carry. We finally hear our names called, it was Eduardo with FLY BVI! Out of the hundreds of people waiting to get on a flight out of the BVI, it was our turn. Passports in hand, backpack and dive bag, we squeezed thru the crowd of people and were finally allowed to visit the customs officer. Who took 1 look at our passports and then at us. *STAMP* We walk out onto the tarmac, loaded our bags into the small 8 seater plane, and we were wheels up at 14:21. A sigh of relief. We were welcome in to Puerto Rico after our 40 minute flight, and our colleagues where on the other FLY BVI flight behind us. 1 step closer to home.
Many phone calls to friends/family/Delta/Air Canada/JetBlue, emails, and adjustments to previous cancelled flights. Trying to find a flight off of Puerto Rico to make it home to Alberta, Canada for the wedding. Long story short, we flew to Fort Lauderdale, to The Twin Cities, then the arrived late into Calgary.
With heavy hearts we left what we called “home” with beautiful white sandy beaches, which we never truly appreciated that until we left, because all we could talk about what we had called “home”. We left behind so many unfilled plans and dreams. With uncertainty for our future there and the country, we remained in Canada after the wedding. Something we would truly wanted to be part of and watch become a stronger community from the ground up we will regret over time. We were part of a family at Sail Caribbean Divers, an irreplaceable experience of people we had met and grew with both professionally and personally. With big holes in hearts, we are in Canada for a bit, making new plans. Follow along to see what the next adventures takes us…