York County family endures Hurricane Irma on vacation

A Manchester Township woman and her family had to cut their Caribbean vacation short earlier this month after Hurricane Irma made landfall where they were staying.

The family was evacuated to Puerto Rico shortly before Hurricane Jose hit their St. Maarten vacation spot. From there, they took a plane to Atlanta before flying to Baltimore just before Irma hit Georgia.

“It was quite an ordeal," Sandy Snead said Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Vacation cut short: Snead, her husband, her aunt and uncle, and her parents went to St. Maarten for vacation in early September. The six were staying in a three-bedroom timeshare unit on the island, which is St. Martin in English and is divided into Dutch Sint Maarten and French Saint-Martin.

Snead said they believed Irma was heading north. She said she was told by the staff at the adjoining hotel, The Westin Dawn Beach Resort and Spa, that her family would be fine.

“We did consider not going, but we felt more confident because the hotel had reassured us," she said, adding that the staff told her they get hurricanes "all the time."

Her family was there for a few days, and it was apparent the storm was going to be big.

“As the storm was getting near ... everybody in town was out buying supplies,” she said.

People evacuated from St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma hit. Photo courtesy Sandy Snead.

Snead said it would take about two hours to get from one end of the island to the other. The island is about 30 miles across, she said.

The family arrived on the island on Saturday, Sept. 2, and just before Wednesday, Sept. 6, the adjoining hotel advised her and her family to relocate to a suite in the hotel. The power on the island had been shut off, but the hotel was running a generator.

Hurricane: The family was in the suite until about 4 a.m. Sept. 6, when the Category 5 hurricane hit.

“It woke us up; you could hear the inside doors of the hotel rattling and shaking," she said.

For their safety, hotel occupants were relocated to a boardroom, which Snead said was totally enclosed.

“You could feel the walls vibrating because of the wind,” she said.

Later, the eye of the storm would pass over the island, which Snead described as "surreal and calm." 

After the eye passed, the winds picked up again.

Once the hurricane had passed, she said, about 95 percent of the island was damaged.

Damage: Snead recalled that the roof of the hotel had been damaged, and water had soaked the floors and carpets.

"As we walked through the hotel the next couple days, it looked like the Titanic," she said.

Outside the hotel, she said, trees were snapped in half, sidewalks were cracked and boats were upended onto land.

“After the storm hit, we were warned by our hotel not to go out because there was so much looting," Snead said. She said some people went outside and returned scared.

Her family returned briefly to their timeshare unit, which she said was "totally destroyed."

The power was out and the generator had flooded at the hotel, she said, but the hotel staff was still able to provide the guests with three hot meals a day by using a gas stove.

Supplies were running low, and Snead said she was told the National Guard would be evacuating the guests Friday, Sept. 8. However, help didn't come until Saturday, Sept. 9.

Evacuation: About 100 guests piled into two small buses that took them to the airport. From there, they crammed into a plane and landed in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Jose was supposed to hit St. Maarten that night. They had to leave most of their luggage behind.

From Puerto Rico, they flew to Atlanta. They spent a day there before flying out Monday, Sept. 11, to Baltimore, just before Irma made it to Georgia.

Snead and her husband were supposed to stay in St. Maarten until Sept. 13. Her aunt, uncle and parents were supposed to stay until Sept. 22.

“They really had to cut their vacation short," Snead said.

Looking back: In the time that she and her family have been back, Snead said, she finds herself remembering what she experienced, especially with major hurricanes still occurring.

"It brings back the thoughts of what we went through." she said.

Snead said while she was on the island, she couldn't make phone calls. The hotel took down emergency contacts for each family, and the hotel staff was able to reach out to the contacts to let them know their loved ones were safe.

"I think our family back home was more nervous than anything," she said.

Snead's emergency contact, her cousin, received word that they were safe that Wednesday and then nothing until Saturday.

"They didn't know where we were," she said.

While in St. Maarten during Irma, Snead said, initially she was scared, but her faith got her through. The six members of the family, all Christians, prayed during the storm.

"We all said that our fears were dampened at that time," she said.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.