The past eight weeks will never be forgotten. While we may not recall details or even trends during September 2015 or September 1995, September 2017 saw two major earthquakes in Mexico, several category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Caribbean, which landed onshore, major wildfires in Northern California and a mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Trinity Houston, executive producer of the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema, experienced and endured Hurricane Irma as it pummeled Sint Maarten. (The island known as St. Martin in English is divided between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten.) More importantly, not only did she live through it, but thousands of others survived because of her actions before, during and after the Category 5 hurricane passed over the tiny Caribbean Island.
This is the second of three parts describing the ordeal Houston encountered, and the actions she took that helped so many. Part 1, which describes the days up to the arrival of Hurricane Irma, appeared in the Oct. 12 edition of the Town Crier.
Hurricane Irma was classified as a Category 5 hurricane because its wind speed exceeded 155 miles per hour. Category 5 is the most severe category. However, Irma’s wind speed actually exceeded 185 mph and gusts were maximum at 230 mph.
The winds were getting stronger Tuesday and Tuesday night, Sept. 5. By Wednesday morning, except for the hour or so when the eye of the hurricane passed over Sint Maarten, the winds were vicious.
Although windows were boarded as strongly as possible, the winds still were felt inside the Simpson Bay resort. Rain was pushed through the seams and concrete. The floor of her room was covered in inches of water and she was on the fifth floor.
Tuesday night in the last group meeting before Irma arrived, Houston advised the current occupants to use the bathrooms for safety. These were not exposed to exterior forces and the bath tubs provided some additional protection.
“I said, ‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,’” she advised her new friends and responsibilities. “Stay in your rooms and don’t open any doors because of the wind.” They stationed one employee on every floor for help if it were needed. But when everyone left for their rooms, Houston was alone.
In those minutes before the worst of the storm pummeled the island, she was able to call a friend — a good friend from Hemet — and pour out her own fears to someone else.
“What can I do? We’ll need planes to leave,” she cried. “But if the airport loses power and I expect it will, airlines won’t land. We’ll need private or military help.”
Of course, the power was lost to the whole island, but the resort complex had generators to rely on. However, by late Tuesday, these failed, too.
“I tried to get some sleep, but that was impossible,” she lamented. The wind force was so strong and the air pressure so strong, my head felt like it was in a vise! The building shook from the wind.”
She called her mother, who didn’t know Houston was on the island waiting for a major hurricane. During that call, the phone died.
As the hurricane’s eye passed, Houston and some others risked going outside. Portions of the roof had blown off; the door to one couple’s bungalow was blown away. They and some others had to be relocated to safer places. And many cars were already turned on their roofs. And the window protection for several villas was lost.
“We had about an hour to move these people to a safer place,” she stated.
As the eye passed and the hurricane returned, the winds were less. It was still another four hours before the hurricane had totally moved past the island.
“It was massive damage. It felt like a Category 6 or 7, if there was one,” Houston said, describing the immediate feeling. “Cars were flipped over everywhere. Some were on top of other cars. It was more like a tornado.”
But in the immediate post-storm assessment, they determined that none of the guests suffered any major injuries. One employee did incur a broken arm when they slipped in a wet area.
“In that first meeting, everybody was happy and cheering, ‘We made it!’” Houston said. Now they had to make it off the island.
Part 3, getting home, will appear in the Oct. 26 edition of the Town Crier.