Four people from the metro-east have been stranded on St. Thomas for over a week after Hurricane Irma struck the small Caribbean island on Wednesday.
Two sisters, Ashley Timmons from Maryville and Kelsey Bridgwater from Melville, and their significant others, Benjamin Timmons and Ben Adams, were on vacation on St. Thomas when the hurricane made landfall, according to the third sister, Lindsey Whitten.
The four were staying at the secluded Bluebeard’s Beach Club Resort when the Category 5 storm hit.
“When they realized how bad it was going to be, they started to panic and wanted to come home, but it was too late,” said Whitten, who lives in Collinsville. “It got to the point of, ‘Go get your survival needs and stay in your hotel room.’”
Whitten said she lost contact with her sisters just as the eye of the hurricane hit them. After that, she did not hear from them for 24 hours.
Her sisters climbed to the top of a large hill in order to place the call to tell their family they were alive, Whitten said.
“They were telling me that we will never believe what they had to walk through to make that call,” Whitten said.
While she knew her sisters were safe for the moment, however, Whitten knew their situation was anything but ideal.
St. Thomas was devastated by Irma, leaving it without running water, power or cell service on most of the island. The island’s hospital and airport are inaccessible.
“People are in survival mode down there,” Whitten said. “They’re not just looting. People want off this island and they’re desperate, they will do anything. There’s just nothing left.”
Whitten said the hardest part of getting her sisters and their significant others home is just getting them off the island. If they can just make it to Puerto Rico, they can finally fly home. If everything unfolds as planned, they should all be back home by no later than Saturday.
The atmosphere on the island, however, is making it difficult for anyone to leave.
Whitten said there are people who are going to extremes to survive. She said some residents are angry because the government is only allowing tourists to leave the island right now. Threats have been made on social media pages like the one Whitten started, “Bluebeard Beach Club – Irma Victims Families And Friends.”
“I don’t want any bad publicity for the island, because it has nothing to do with the island itself,” Whitten said. “There are things that are going on because people are desperate and in dire need right now.”
Morethan anything, Whitten stressed, the residents of St. Thomas need help.
“This is U.S. territory too. These are U.S. citizens,” Whitten said. “They’re angry at the states because they need help and it’s like they don't exist to people right now.”
Many of the island’s residents have also been a blessing for tourists staying in the area. Whitten said the workers at the Bluebeard Beach Club chose to stay and help their guests instead of riding out the hurricane with their families.
“They are absolutely selfless people, they’ve just been absolutely amazing,” Whitten said.
Whitten even joined with Steven Wilson, the vice president of the resort’s timeshare, to start a Gofundme for the resort’s employees. Whitten said she wants to raise money for these workers because not only did they go through a hurricane like everyone else, they probably lost their homes as well.
Photos posted on the resort’s Facebook page and re-posted by Whitten show devastation at the resort – trees lying on top of one another on the ground, buildings and beach houses missing roofs, and walls and piles of wooden debris blocking pathways.
Elizabeth Smith, a resident of nearby island St. Croix told NPR that St. Thomas, which is a U.S. territory, is “not safe.”
"No power, no running water, no cell service. The only hospital on St. John faced catastrophic failure during the storm. Patients with life threatening injuries were evacuated to hospitals in Puerto Rico and St. Croix,” Smith wrote in an email to NPR.