The wind had been howling for hours by the time the shutters blew off Nicole Granja’s balcony doors.
The Miami woman’s husband told her to hide in the closet with their 2-year-old son. She had never been so scared, huddled on the shaking floor as Hurricane Irma raged outside the unprotected windows. They knew they had to leave.
She grabbed her son and made “the scariest one minute run of my life” to a friend’s condominium in the same resort. There, both families held each other on the closet floor as inches of storm water pooled around them and 150 mph winds tore at the building.
When it was all over, Granja and her family were among thousands of tourists stranded on St. Thomas, a Caribbean island known for its turquoise water and luxurious beachfront resorts.
In a day, trees across the island had been turned to twigs, and chunks of homes and buildings littered the hills. Two fire stations, police stations and only hospital on St. Thomas were destroyed, according to the Associated Press.
The St. Thomas Source reported the roads were so debris-covered they were nearly impassable and gasoline was only available for emergency vehicles. Part of the Cyril E. King International Airport terminal was missing, the paper reported.
While news reports on the island and abroad had been warning about the powerful, slow-moving storm for days, Granja said no one at the resort mentioned it or offered her any preparation tips other than to close the shutters.
Three days after Irma, Granja and her family are still stuck on the destroyed island. There’s no electricity or running water. The only food they’ve found at the nearby market: boxes of mac and cheese and two cans of beans.
With the airport torn up, the main route of evacuation is a ferry to nearby St. Croix. But rescue workers have commandeered the ship for emergency aid. Granja’s best hope is a cruise ship, but she doesn’t know when or where one will show up.
“We don’t have local TV or radios working,” she said by text message. “No one knows anything.”
Royal Caribbean is sending four ships to the Caribbean for relief efforts, including one to St. Thomas and St. Johns, CEO Michael Bayley told the Miami Herald Saturday.
The Majesty of the Seas, which can fit 2,767 guests, will bring water, ice and food to the island before taking the stranded tourists to San Juan, where they can catch flights home. This is a welcome relief to Granja, who’s flight home was canceled the day before the storm.
“This was supposed to be a fun family vacation with friends and has turned into a nightmare,” she said.