Lethbridge woman in Caribbean safe throughout hurricane Irma
Suzette Strong says the moment when daughter Katie texted her last Tuesday evening and told her that hurricane Irma had been updated to a class-5 was the moment pure panic set in.
Katie had just recently landed at the small Caribbean island of Saba, where she will begin her second year at Saba University School of Medicine.
Saba is just off the coast of St. Kits, and lay right in the path of the storm.
Katie was able to communicate with her family until midnight (1:30 a.m. Newfoundland time), at which point Saba government shut off power on the island to prevent electrical fires.
The government said power would be off for two days, so Katie knew that she had to limit her use of her phone to save the battery.
“She still had cellphone service, but she was expecting to be without power for two days so she had to be careful not to drain her battery,” explained Suzette.
With the winds howling around her, Katie and some friends settled for the night. There was nothing else they could do.
“Luckily we were in a house made of concrete walls and a concrete ceiling with shutters over all of the windows so for most of the night we were able to sleep off-and-on despite the wind,” Katie told The Packet.
“At 6 a.m. the wind picked up and the shutter for our bathroom came open, so that woke us up from the banging. It was very scary but at least we were in a safe place.”
Then, early Wednesday morning, Saba lost its cell service.
Without power or cellular service, Katie had no way of contacting her family. Even Saba›s official website had gone down and was no longer providing updates.
All the Strong family could do was sit back and watch the destruction unfold on their TV screens, and wait to hear from Katie.
“As bad as Tuesday night was, Wednesday was worse,” said Suzette.
“It was torture.”
Suzette said that most of the news reports focused on St. Kits and the larger islands, and that there was very little reported about the tiny island of Saba, an island that only measures around 13 square kilometers.
“The most stressful part of it after the hurricane hit was not being able to let my family know that I was okay,» said Katie, who said that damage to Saba seemed minimal.
“Saba was very fortunate. The island is full of hills and most of the houses are far above sea level so we weren›t affected by the storm surge or flooding that affected many of the nearby islands,» explained Katie.
“For us, the wind was the worst, some roofs came off of houses and many of the trees were broken. Looking at the hills it almost looks like a forest fire came through because there›s no leaves left on the trees.”
After nine hours of silence, the Strong family received word from Katie, who managed to connect to a wi-fi signal.
“We cried tears of joy,” said Suzette.
The family received an overwhelming amount of support during the agonizing time, she added.
“I was getting so many text messages and so many Facebook messages and so many phone calls I had to put it on Facebook to update people,» she said.
“Everybody had her in their prayers and in their thoughts. It was just amazing,”
Interestingly enough, Katie almost missed the hurricane entirely.
She only found out after arriving that classes had been postponed until next week.
But it turns out that being on Saba when she was will work to her advantage.
“My friends that were fortunate enough to stay home and miss the hurricane are scrambling to find a way back for classes as St. Maarten was hit really bad and that is our transportation hub,” explained Katie.
“She could have avoided the dangers of the hurricane, but at the same time everything turned out to be fine, so now she›s probably in a better position that she›s there, and she›s there ready for class on Monday.”
Katie Strong is in her second year at the Saba University School of Medicine
The damage uprooted many trees on the island.