Leth­bridge woman in Caribbean safe through­out hur­ri­cane Irma

The Packet (Clarenville) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK SQUIBB THE PACKET

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.

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