You’re far from home and that home is in the path of the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in history.
“It was really nerve wracking,” Ariel Boulos-Callias of Antigua said in an interview Thursday. “Not being able to go to sleep, thinking what’s going to happen? What if I wake up and everything is gone?”
Boulos-Callias and fellow student Tama Martin of St. Kitts spoke from Saint Mary’s University about their anxiety over the past couple of days as hurricane Irma slammed into the Leeward Islands region of the Caribbean.
They’re members of Saint Mary’s Caribbean Society, which is raising funds to help their home islands, some of which were devastated by the Category 5 hurricane.
While damage was relatively light on Antigua and St. Kitts, there was widespread destruction on other islands such as Barbuda, Anguilla and St. Martin. (Those same islands are in the path of yet another hurricane, Jose, according to predictions on Thursday afternoon.)
At least 10 people have died and thousands are homeless.
“The airports and hospitals are completely destroyed,” Boulos-Callias, 21, said.
“There hasn’t been much communication with the islands so we’re all pretty much sitting down waiting to hear what’s going on. There are people from St. Martin here (in Halifax) and we’re keeping them in our prayers. They’re not in contact with their families at all, some of them haven’t heard from their friends and family in 24 hours.”
Most of the islands that make up the Leeward chain are tiny and flat — St. Kitts is only 174 square kilometres and Antigua is 281 square kilometres (for comparison, P.E.I. is 5,600). The Leewards have never experienced a storm the size and intensity of Irma, which at one point could have covered the United Kingdom and part of Ireland.
The record-shattering hurricane brought winds of close to 300 kilometres per hour that lasted about 37 hours. It’s expected to head toward heavily populated areas of southern Florida such as the Keys and Miami.
“The capital of St. Kitts is called Basseterre, which means lowland,” said Martin, 24, who has lived in Nova Scotia for four years. “I actually thought it would be below the water but thankfully like I said, we’ve been spared. It’s incredible. The last hurricane I witnessed was hurricane Luis (in 1995) and it did a lot more damage to St. Kitts than Irma did.
“According to my father, the northern part of St. Kitts really got hit but thankfully we live on a hill so we were able to avoid some of that.”
Surprisingly, Boulos-Callias and Martin have been able to keep in contact with their family and friends. But Martin did have one anxious moment during the height of the storm when her mother wasn’t answering the phone.
“I got no answer so I went on Facebook to see what’s up and she’s posting on Facebook, so I’m like, ‘OK, she’s good!’”