Never take the threat of a hurricane lightly.
This is the stark advice offered to Bermudians by Roslyn Famous, who survived Hurricane Irma on September 6 as she visited the Mount Healthy area of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
Ms Famous, a Bermudian, travelled to the island from her home in Puerto Rico to accompany an aunt for surgery.
Little did she know she would have to endure Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, which has caused death and devastation across the Caribbean.
Speaking to Today In Bermuda from Puerto Rico as she prepared for Hurricane Maria, another Category 5, Ms Famous recalled her experience in Tortola.
“This was very different for me. I was used to being shuttered up during a hurricane but in Tortola, my aunt has very large windows in her home and we could see the hurricane coming and see how outside changed over the hours. When it reached the highest point it seems as if buckets of water were being thrown at the windows. That was the scariest.”
Ms Famous, who works in Peurto Rico as a translator, says she took the lead preparing for the hurricane as her aunt had never experienced one before.
She says she trekked the storm via social media feeds from Puerto Rico which were saying that it was due to hit on the night of September 6.
But in hindsight, Ms Famous realises that it may have been her oversight by not looking on Tortola feeds, as when she woke up on the morning of September 6, she learned that the timeline may have been inaccurate and they were left without one critical item—water.
“That’s when the fear started. We were told that it was coming at night so I thought I would wait until the morning to (gather water).
When I woke up that morning it was hot, as my fan was off. We had lost electricity. It was preventative by the electricity company as winds had reached a certain level.
“The electricity went off earlier than expected. We didn’t do the important step.”
The women then used a transistor radio to trek the storm locally. Ms Famous says as they were listening they realised that they didn’t have enough batteries so they decided to listen hourly in order to conserve them.
“I remember the moment the station cut off, 12.02 p.m. and therefore no communications at all. We were then on our own,” she recalls.
“With every shake, you think that everything is going to break. There were windows everywhere. I had to keep my aunt calm as she realised how serious it was. We retreated to the pantry and from there you could hear windows breaking.
“The first sound was in one of the bedrooms. My aunt kept wanting to see what was happening. It was hard for her to keep still. I was trying to keep her from the windows. When the living room window broke, reality sat in for her.”
During the eye, the downstairs tenants and their two-year-old child joined the pair in the house.
Ms Famous continues: “During the second half of the storm my anxiety was shooting up further out of concern for if the roof would come off. I instructed everyone that if it lifted, they were to move to the bathroom.”
Thankfully, it did not happen but by the time Irma passed, the house was extensively damaged with the exception of one room so the six of them slept in there for the night.
Another of Ms Famous’ aunts who lived in another part of the island wasn’t as fortunate.
“She has lost virtually everything.”
While Ms Famous and her aunt who required medical treatment evacuated the island, her second aunt chose to remain.
As she was preparing to face Hurricane Maria, which at publishing had flattened Dominica and had left 10 dead in its wake, Ms Famous reflects on seeing how quickly life changed in Tortola.
“It looked like a war zone. Flipped cars, cars in the hills. Cars are all banged up but as long as they are running peole are driving them. Looks like they were participating in the roller derby.
“To see Road Town two days prior then to see it again. People are stunned and just sitting there. It’s like the earth threw up material possessions. That’s something that I’ve never seen before.”
She continues: “All banks were destroyed. Residents have to stand in line to purchase items. Gas lines were miles long.”
And unfortunately, in the wake of devastation, there has been senselessness: “There has been looting, so some stores have lost even more after the storm.
“Don’t think about yourself. There are still a lot of people who only think about themselves, even at this level of destruction. But really, we should be working together. What I saw on a human level, in some cases, was hard for me.”
Ms Famous says this experience has opened her eyes: “Get rid of the stupid material things. Live constantly ready for a category five hurricane. If Irma hit Bermuda, I don’t know what it would have done.”
Editor's Note: Today In Bermuda has spoken to Ms Famous' brother, MP Christopher Famous, this morning who says she has fared well in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria. However, according to international news reports, the island is without electricity and will be for months. Some areas are in danger of flash flooding. at least one death has been confirmed.