A SURVIVOR of Hurricane Irma who moved from Rugby to Tortola just five months ago spent 36 ‘horrific’ hours huddled in a shower cubicle as her new home was torn apart around her.
Lifelong Rugbeian Erin Breen, 31, is heading back to the UK after she and her boyfriend were left with next to nothing after the storm – and she fears for the islanders who were left with even less.
The former Rugby High School pupil and her boyfriend Skyler Shah, 26, could only take shelter as the category five hurricane devastated the British Caribbean island with winds of up to 220mph on Wednesday September 6.
“It was horrific,” she told The Observer. “We huddled together in a shower cubicle which we had prepared with sofa cushions and pillows – it saved our lives.
“We could hear our furniture whipping around our living room and our windows and doors being torn apart. Our ears were popping due to the air pressure and at several points we thought we were going to lose the roof.
“Skyler remained very calm throughout but I was very scared. The noises were alarming and we could see our bathroom flooding. We moved from the floor to the shower cubicle and tried to keep ourselves safe and dry.”
They were finally able to leave the bathroom on the Thursday afternoon to witness ‘absolute devastation’.
“All of the palm trees had gone, our house was completely trashed and we were trapped in our house by a fallen tree and our car,” she said. “Roads to our end of the island were ripped apart, we had no access to the main town and we saw very few people for the first few days.”
Cut off from British military aid efforts, Erin and Skyler spent the next week scavenging for food and water and sleeping rough in empty, trashed villas.
“Each day we had two objectives; find out information and survive,” she added. “We were cut off at our end of the island and we were aware there was another potential hurricane hitting, so we wanted to get out each day and find someone who had more information than we did. Furthermore, we needed to gather food and resources.”
With no electricity or phone service, she wasn’t able to contact her anguished Dunchurch family until two days later, thanks to a kind-hearted local who finally managed to get a phone signal.
They had to leave their area altogether when looting began.
Erin, who moved to the British Virgin Island in April to work as an Insolvency Manager, managed to contact her employers on Monday September 11 and spent the next two days waiting for a flight.
“That was the worst part for me,” she said, “waiting for a flight that never came.”
The couple were finally evacuated to Puerto Rico and put up in a hotel by Erin’s company.
“We abandoned our home, left all of our things – most of which had been ruined – and headed to the airport.”
The pair are still waiting for a flight back home to the UK so they can regroup and rebuild.
Hurricane Irma killed at least 37 people in the Caribbean – five of them in Tortola. It is estimated 90 per cent of homes, businesses and boats were destroyed across the British Virgin Islands. Communities have been left with flattened homes and no power, sanitation or water.
Now safe, the couple want to emphasise the plight of those left behind.
“We set up a life out there and now it is gone,” Erin said, “but we have been able to leave the island and will rebuild in our own time.
“It is a beautiful island full of wonderful people who need a lot more than we do. We have been left with very little, but the people who remain on the island have even less.
“We are happy to escape with our lives.”
Visit www.bvirelief.com to contribute to relief efforts.