Three Barbadians who were rescued from storm-ravaged St Maarten today by members of the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) and the Regional Security System (RSS) say they are happy to be alive and back home in one piece.
Charlene Bovell, Brian Cole and Melissa Koeiman were among several left stranded on the Dutch side of the Franco-Dutch territory after Hurricane Irma devastated the island last Wednesday, leaving 60 per cent of the homes there in ruins.
Cole, who has been teaching music there for the past two years, lost his apartment during the storm and he told reporters today he was left shaken by the entire experience.
“It was frightening. I was in my apartment when it went . . . . You know you hear about hurricanes, Barbados has never really been devastated like that. My mother lost her home in Tomas and that was just some rain and a lot of wind, but there’s really no comparison,” he said, adding that “the guys are describing this as a super hurricane. It was a powerful hurricane. It really was”.
Cole was equally taken aback by the amount of looting that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
“Despair set in really quickly because communication went down very quickly. The looting started and you saw the two sides of human nature. You saw the kind acts of strangers, and then you saw the senselessness of some, breaking into stores that weren’t damaged in the hurricane, stealing stuff,” said Cole who was happy to be back home in the company of family.
“It’s different when you’re in a different country surrounded just by friends and not family. So you can’t run over and say, ‘hi mom or dad’ and so on. I can’t speak to how grateful I am just to be alive,” he told reporters on arrival at Grantley Adams International Airport around four o’clock this afternoon.
Cole praised the BDF and the RSS team for coming to their assistance and doing all they could to bring stranded Barbadians home.
“Those guys are awesome. They came, they found us at the airport. It’s a little chaotic there. They walked around the compound at least five times and made sure they got everyone that was on their list They didn’t get everyone but one of the young ladies with us had a Barbados flag, they got that and they walked around and they got us,” he explained, while reporting that some Barbadians who had been living in Saint Martin for over 20 years had opted to stay.
The 43-year-old also expressed confidence that St Maarten would be able to recover, even though he suggested that based on the devastation, it would take some time.
After living through the recent ordeal, he also suggested that Barbadians at home, who were spared the ravages of Irma, should count their blessings.
“We are blessed because of location, the fact that so many hurricanes turn and bypass us. That was a full hit with a category five hurricane. I think everyone in St Maarten would have been impacted by that hurricane. Even if their house made it through, it’s going to be a long time,” he said.
Bovell, who has been teaching in St Maarten for just over one year, was fortunate not to lose her home to Irma. However, she was so terrified by all the looting that occurred after the storm’s passage that she abandoned it and went to stay with a friend.
“I didn’t really feel it, but I just wanted to get out of St Maarten, that’s the truth,” she said, while describing the destruction caused as unlike anything she had ever seen in her life.
In fact, even before Irma’s arrival, Bovell was already in a tizzy.
“I called my father crying and he wanted to know what I was crying for . . . [but] I was just in a panic mode saying, ‘I want to come home because this thing like it serious’. Then when it came it was crazy,” she told reporters, while agreeing with Cole that Barbadians had much to be thankful for.
“Barbados real lucky. We take things for granted. Right now people down there fighting for food and we just taking things for granted. We just don’t know,” the 27-year-old said, adding that she was prepared to return to St Maarten when things got better.
Koeiman, who was also happy to be back home, described it as the worst experience ever.
“Winds at 180 miles per hour, it was frightening for me . . . the looting and the crime, it was crazy. I always wanted to come back home from day one,” she said.
As to whether she will ever return to St Maarten, Koeiman said, “I’m thinking about it long and hard.”