'Total destruction': Hurricane Irma survivor describes chaos of historic storm
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands -- As Hurricane Irma churns toward Florida, one U.S. territory is already dealing with the aftermath of the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
Elizabeth Doody, a high school classmate of KOMO NewsRadio's Elisa Jaffe, weathered the storm at her home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their home survived, but destruction was widespread.
Doody told Jaffe during an intervew with KOMO NewsRadio they didn't figure to leave at first because most other storms that were forecast to come through had not been that bad, so they believed they were OK.
"By the point that we realized, 'Uh oh, Category 5, you ain't messing with that,' it was too late -- you couldn't get a flight out. Days before they even grounded all the airplanes, you could not get a flight out. The airport was pretty crazy."
The storm hit midday Wednesday with a ferocious power. The airport in nearby St. Thomas reported gusts of 87 and 85 mph before the station stopped transmitting. Nearby Buck Island reported a gust of 131 mph, according to the Washington Post.
"It was terrifying," Doody said.
She grew up in Buffalo and had gone through a number of severe winter storms.
"There was nothing whatsoever that compared to this," she said. "It was eerie. The winds and the rain were so high that it was a whiteout in front of your house. You could not see anything. And the howling ripping through the house...we prayed, we just tried to be positive and say how lucky we are that we are in a really safe home. It was just so scary."
(Note: A little off-color language is on the video)
She said her son in Ohio was texting, letting her know of the storm's progress and when the eye wall was coming.
"And we knew exactly when it hit, because all the craziness stopped -- just dead silence," Doody said. "And the crazy part was you looked out and everything was gone. No animals -- the sounds, that was so scary: The birds were gone, the frogs were gone. There was no sound at all and then you knew you were in the eye and you saw everything and how much damage had been done."
Once the storm had passed, she walked outside for the first time and it was overwhemling.
"First time I had lost it," she said. "I was trying to be strong...but I just broke down and cried. I screamed, because as much as you say, 'I'm from Buffalo' or whatever, this has been my home for four years, and when you realized your home is gone..."
She then described several scenes after the storm was over as simply: "It's gone."
"It's just total destruction from everything that I see around me. All the beauty that surrounds me is really gone," she said. "The Caribbean Sea, which we sit on, bright blue was all mucky waters and big waves. Every tree that surrounded us -- we had lemon trees, lime trees, banana trees, avocado trees -- they're gone. Everything that we've been hearing, we're praying it's not all true, but from any friends we've been able to communicate with us told us hotels -- the roofs are gone. Any kind of small cottages... are totally destructed (sic). Schools are gone, hospital roofs -- gone, restaurants are total...just gone. Even grocery stores that were made of cement -- their roofs tore off and everything in them are gone."
And even if she and the four others staying in her house wanted to go somewhere for help or food, they can't. The roads are clogged with debris and impassable.
"We're trapped, we're totally trapped," she said. "I know we prepared as much as we could. We have a lot of canned goods, we have a lot of water, but I mean, a week? Two weeks?"
She's near one of the lone cell towers that is still working but not everyone on the island can hit the tower. So Doody says don't panic if you can't reach a loved one on the island.
"We don't have internet, we don't have TV, we don't have cell phone coverage except a small corner of the island. There is literally no way to communicate with anybody," she said.
They had no idea where Hurricane Irma was now, or whether Hurricane Jose which has formed to the east is coming their way.
"We just hope that the United States knows that we're still here. Help us," she said. "We did see some Coast Guard helicopters and saw them lifting people off rooftops around here, but that's basically all we've seen. Our question right now is not just how would we ever get out of here, but when could we ever get out of here?
"We need help from people to clear the roads to help people get out. We're going to need funds to rebuild some place to live. There is a large, large population of people here that have no other people except those who live on the island and there's no way out of here, so we're going to need food, we're going to need water. Our grocery stores are gone, where do we get that? We're going to need emergency people in to help people get back on their feet more than anything. We're an island, but we are a United States territory, please do not forget about us. We will need help."
Officials said at least 3 people have died in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they say Irma caused 'catastrophic' damage.