Surviving a direct hit by a category 5 hurricane
A News 4 San Antonio Executive Producer was in the British Virgin Islands three weeks ago when Hurricane Irma hit. He and his wife had planned to spend eight days sailing the Caribbean, but as Delaine Mathieu shows us, Mother Nature had other plans.
On Friday September 1st, Bryan and Christina Eckert arrived on Tortola -- the largest of the British Virgin Islands south of Puerto Rico, where they boarded a boat to begin their adventure.
"We just start taking pictures and laying out and having a good time on the boat," Bryan said.
They snorkeled and swam, saw sharks and turtles. Two days in to the trip they received news that Irma had grown into a category 5 hurricane.
So they headed right back to the island where Christina got to work on getting home. But there were no planes. There were no boats. They were stuck on an island with a monster storm headed their way -- and all Christina thought about were her girls back at home.
Christina described the note she wrote to her mom.
"In case we don't make it back, these are our life insurance policies," Christina said. "These are the passwords to things. This is how Avery will handle the situation. This is how Jilli will handle this situation. And this is what you're going to need to do to help them through this situation along the way. And I remember thinking, ‘This is not what I expected here. I do not want to be writing this note to my mom thinking, thinking about death.’”
Everyone was given a hotel room, which was right on the water, but Bryan was actually relieved with what he saw.
"[It was] built of concrete, an inner concrete wall," he said. "The bathroom was a very small, enclosed area, that, I felt very comfortable -- if we had to be in that room -- that we could ride out anything in that room."
On Wednesday morning, September 6th, Irma reached the island. When they could, they updated family and friends on Facebook -- until the winds picked up.
"We could hear people in the rooms near us screaming because they were so scared," Christina said.
They hunkered down in the bathroom with a mattress over their heads and listened as debris smashed against the hotel.
"It was really loud and the pressure in your ears was like when you take off or land in a plane," Christina said. "And so you kept trying to pop your eardrums because there was just .. it would get painful and it would build up. We lost power during this part -- and so, at one point, it lit up in the room. And I looked at Bryan and I said, ‘Babe, I think they got the electricity on during the storm -- that's amazing,’" Christina said.
But that's not what happened.
"I looked around because we were in the bathroom, so I look around the corner and I saw that a palm tree had fallen onto our roof," Bryan said. "So I just calmly turned around and, you know, it's not electricity, that's a new sky light. We don't have a roof anymore."
For hours they sat in that bathroom as wind gusts reached 225 miles per hour.
And when it was finally over and they went outside.
"There were fallen trees everywhere," Christina said. "There were buildings that had been knocked down. There were boats that were standing upright or upside down. When you looked at the mountain side around us, there was nothing green left on the hillside."
Several people were killed on the island, but everyone in the hotel survived.
And while it wasn't the dream getaway they had hoped for, Bryan and Christina have one heck of story to tell. They survived a category 5 hurricane, on an island, in a bathroom -- together, side-by-side.
It took them nearly two days to get off the island and onto American soil. A stranger with a charter boat picked them up and took them all the way to San Juan, Puerto Rico – for free.