To­tal dev­as­ta­tion

Amherst fam­ily man­aged to get out of Caribbean af­ter Irma

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - By Dar­rell Cole Amherst News dar­rell.cole@amher­st­ Twit­ter: @ADN­dar­rell

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.

Peter Van Zoost photo

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.

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