Amherst family managed to get out of Caribbean after Irma
Amherst native Peter Van Zoost and his family experienced hurricane Irma and all its fury. The family lives in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The island took a direct hit from the major hurricane. The family is back in Nova Scotia staying with relatives in Berwick.
Peter Van Zoost is accustomed to hurricanes, but nothing prepared him for the wrath of hurricane Irma a couple of weeks ago.
The 44-year-old Amherst native has worked on the tiny Caribbean island of Tortola for more than a decade. Located near Hurricane Alley, Van Zoost has lived through several hurricanes during his time working in the financial services industry in the Caribbean.
That is until Irma hit the island on its rampage through the tropics before slamming into Florida as a major hurricane.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The power of the wind was just incredible,” said Van Zoost, who is now living with family in the Berwick area. “It was pretty intense, nothing you could ever prepare yourself for.”
Tortola took a direct hit from Irma and Van Zoost, his wife, son and daughter experienced the eye of the hurricane coming over the island before going behind the mountains and out to sea. Their home is in Trunk Bay, near the capital Road Town.
“When the eye went over we could see blue sky and the clouds circling around over and above us,” he said.
“We took the opportunity to relocate to a better spot with better shelter. We knew when the eye went over that the wind would be from the other direction and we would be protected by the mountains. We went downstairs to an apartment where we knew it would be quieter.”
During the storm there were a few moments when he questioned whether riding it out was a good idea.
Van Zoost said water lines broke at the height of the storm and it appeared as though some of his home’s windows were going to blow in.
“We decided my son’s room was the safest spot and we’d just gotten in there when we heard a window let go. I had to lean on the door to keep it from ripping open,” he said. “We could hear things like steel slamming into the house. We had to wait for the eye to come so we could get out to a better location. We really had no where to go if that room had been compromised.”
Van Zoost said his home survived the storm. Others on the island and across the region weren’t as fortunate. The family went around their neighbourhood following the storm to help neighbours whose homes lost their roofs or had windows blown out.
“It was like a warzone, it was catastrophic. There’s no trees left and very few power poles left standing. Almost every car was smashed up. Very little was untouched by the storm,” he said.
“It’s going to take years to repair the damage. Many of the boats were destroyed and the tourism industry has been wiped out. By about the third day a lot of people were starting to cry because they realized their lives were gone.”
The damage is so severe that schools across the island – including the private school his children attend - are closed until further notice. Since there was no word on when classes will resume, he relocated his two children back to Nova Scotia.
Even getting off the island was a struggle. The storm obliterated nearly all communication on Tortola. For Van Zoost that meant going around the island trying to find cell service so he could call family in Canada and make arrangements to get off Tortola.
Through friends, the family was able to charter a flight off the island to Puerto Rico and eventually back to Canada.
Absolute devastation greeted Peter Van Zoost and his family as they emerged from their home in Tortola following hurricane Irma two weeks ago. The family has been able to get back to Canada and is staying with relatives in Berwick.