Climate change: Part 2. Unable to escape hurricane Irma

• Ducking under the eye of hurricane Irma.
• A terrifying night crouching in a bathroom.
• Avoiding looters and robbers.
• The islanders on St Maarten have lost everything.
• Things are not okay, and the oceans are angry.

Just to clarify: this group of three blogs (Part 3 still to come) will center on Science and Energy. The next series will be on Inspiration and Hope. This blog is a long one, but I know it will add value to your perspective.

THIS BLOG IS A STORY ABOUT A FRIEND OF MINE, CALLED BETSY, who was crouching in the bathroom of a hotel in St Maarten, an island in the Caribbean, when the eye of hurricane Irma came right though there. The fear of breaking windows, and later the looting, and the escape from the island make a gripping story.

This story follows Climate Change Part 1, which describes how hurricanes and the huge number of forest fires in the US are linked to climate change. Click here to read that blog.

The following story, written by Jolene Krueger, is taken from the Albuquerque Journal on 19 September 2017. Thank you Betsy for sharing your story.

Simpson Bay resort pre-Hurricane Irma. Source: Betsy Siwula-Brandt


After it was over, after Hurricane Irma had left nothing undamaged, after everything – communication, power, food, safety – was obliterated by the force of 200 mph-plus winds, a miracle of sorts happened.

Back in their seventh-floor hotel room in what had been the luxurious Villas at the Simpson Bay Resort on the small Caribbean island of St. Maarten, Santa Fe residents Betsy Siwula-Brandt and her husband, Wolfgang Brandt, snagged enough of an intermittent cellphone signal to send out a short message.
“We made it through,” the text read. “We’re OK.”

In those early hours after an Irma direct hit on September 6, their phone seemed the only way for them and others to get word out to the rest of the world about their survival.

The island – the Dutch-ruled side known as St. Maarten, where the Brandts had stayed, and the French side, known as St. Martin – had been in the direct path of Irma, THE EYE PASSING OVERHEAD WHILE SHE WAS AT CATEGORY 5 STRENGTH, HER FIERCEST.

An estimated 95 percent of the island was devastated. And what Irma hadn’t taken away, the looters had.
“It was terrifying and heartbreaking,” said Siwula-Brandt, a geophysicist who endured the wrath of Irma on what was supposed to be a romantic 18-year wedding anniversary getaway. “We love St. Maarten, but it’s hard to imagine how it will recover from this.”

Siwula-Brandt, back now in the comforts of her New Mexico home, shared her story in a riveting blog, and with me in the hopes of raising awareness to the dire needs of a paradise lost. But she also spoke out as a warning. “The oceans are angry,” she said. “We have not been good stewards. We have trashed the oceans. They are living organisms – as was Irma – and they are not done. They are fighting back.”

As if to prove that point, Hurricane Jose had threatened to hit St. Maarten days after Irma, then veered farther north. As this story was being written, out in the Caribbean Sea a hurricane dubbed Maria was quickly strengthening from a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 behemoth, making it one of the more rapidly intensifying storms in recent memory.

That night, Maria appeared to be following the same path as Irma had, though later it, too, veered slightly away from St. Maarten, still pelting it with heavy rains and winds.
“It seems like these storms keep coming,” she said. “You can feel how disheartening it is there. It’s kind of like you’re just waiting to die.”

Siwula-Brandt said she and her husband have traveled often to these island paradises – three times to St. Maarten – to pursue their passion for snorkeling. This latest trip had been meticulously planned for months by her husband and was supposed to last for three weeks.

But as they awaited their flight September 1, word came that Irma, then a tropical storm, might cause them some problems. “I had a really bad feeling in my gut,” she said. “It kept saying, don’t get on that plane. But I thought, well, maybe it will skirt past us. Maybe it will be chaotic for a day or so and then we’d have the rest of the three weeks.”

By the time they arrived in St. Maarten, Irma had become a badass and was headed their way.
For the next four days, they stocked up on water and food. They also pensively took in the surreal beauty of the blue skies and clear waters off the island.
“It truly was the calm before the storm,” she said.

IRMA HIT AROUND MIDNIGHT SEPTEMBER 6, loudly roiling and ravaging the island for about three hours, shattering glass, splintering wood and sending cars, boats and corrugated siding flying.

The Brandts ensconced themselves in a bathroom as the building shook and swayed. Windows shattered, and doors came unhinged. When the eye passed over and the winds died down, they were evacuated to a small windowless conference room on the third floor to wait out the rest of the hurricane.

Deck of the hotel room. Source: Betsy Siwula-Brandt.

At dawn, they emerged to a place they no longer recognized. Siwula-Brandt describes it in her blog:
“The resort looked nuclear. The trees looked like matchsticks. No water and no power. It looked worse than any movie I had ever seen. And the looting had already begun – yes, this was Irma-geddon.”

HOTEL GUESTS WERE ROBBED AT GUNPOINT. Inmates who had escaped from jail when the winds splayed open their cells hauled away flat-screen televisions and bags of jewelry.

Dutch troops arrived two days later – two days too late to stop the looting.
“It was absolutely stunning to us that when there is no law and order how quickly everything becomes chaos, how quickly crime takes over,” she said, “how quickly it all falls to pieces.”

The Brandts were among those rescued September 9, flown aboard a U.S. Air Force cargo plane to Puerto Rico, which is now in the path of Hurricane Maria. It took four more days for the Brandts to make it back to Santa Fe. Siwula-Brandt spent those first hours home writing about the experience in her blog.

SHE THINKS ABOUT THOSE LEFT BEHIND IN THE AFTERMATH, an estimated 70,000 people who call St. Maarten/St. Martin home – or did. “We get to come home to our beautiful houses, but those people are left with nothing,” she said. “The cruise ships won’t stop there now. There’s no hope now. These people have no means to provide for their families. They did everything in their power to help us to the very last day we were there. They had tears in their eyes.”

Betsy and Wolfgang Brandt of Santa Fe smile in relief after being rescued from St. Maarten by a U.S. Air Force cargo plane three days after Irma hit. (Courtesy of Betsy Siwula-Brandt).

SO BETSY IS SENDING OUT ANOTHER MESSAGE: Please be generous to those who struggle to survive in paradise lost. And please become better stewards of the oceans, of the planet. Because things are not okay. Because survival is not guaranteed.

TO READ BETSY’S GRIPPING BLOG, called We Survived the Eye of Irma, click here. The part about Betsy and her husband hiding in the bathroom all night is terrifying.

The people of St. Maarten/St Martin risked their lives to help us through this disaster and are left with destroyed homes and businesses, and are now without jobs to earn a living for their families.

HOW TO HELP? One way is this crowdfunding site will donate 100% to St. Maarten Red Cross.  Another active group is: Samaritans Purse.

CLIMATE CHANGE: PART 3 WILL BE COMING SOON. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts…..please add a comment in the Comment box at the bottom of this page.

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The Gray Nomad ….. help someone to hope.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good.
[From book of First Timothy, chapter 6].

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Vic Pfitzner
Vic Pfitzner
6 years ago

A dramatic story of the hardship of weather events, I have never forgotten the time when we were victims of a violent storm. It happened in the summer of 1934. I had turned four just two months previously. The roof was ripped from our house by the severe wind Trees were broken off and the rain water came pouring in on top of us. We had hessian ceilings with a good layer of dust on them so the water was turned to mud and soaked all the bedding and the clothes as well hanging in the curtained cupboards. A dramatic experience, but what connection that storm had to carbon dioxide I have never been able to understand. Fortunately I have never been in the path of one of those since.

6 years ago

My heart aches for those residents who had to stay behind and now have nothing. Puerto Ricans @ least have the backing of the U.S. even though their island is demolished and real help has been slow to respond w/trucks and supplies still @ port. Anyone who thinks climate change is a hoax made up by the opposing political party is simply out of touch!

Don Minton
Don Minton
6 years ago

Climate change is real. Many of us have known and accepted this fact for a long time now. Fact is we will all come to accept it in the future, even though some may be to proud to admit they were wrong.

The criminal looting on the island has a parallel; we have looted and abused the earth, and just as the victims on the islands were angry, even so the Earth is now angry. I think that reference in the blog was fitting, an angry planet. Much is to be done, but who will do it, where is the will-power? Thanks Ian for this reminder. We need to be reminded not to drive our car more than needed, not to heat and cool our homes more than needed, not to build larger home than we need, small things become large when we all participate. Also we refuse to pursue a sensible forest management strategy, which means harvesting timber, but doing it properly, no clear-cutting. If we thin the forest they don’t burn at the intensity to consume all the timber. Forest fires are, as mentioned in the blog, giant polluters. Even though we need them, some times conservationist get it wrong too.

Vic Pfitzner
Vic Pfitzner
6 years ago
Reply to  Don Minton

Old forest is carbon neutral if we do not log them and make room for growth. Vic

Vic Pfitzner
Vic Pfitzner
6 years ago
Reply to  Don Minton

Climate change is certainly real I have never experienced two years the same. I have solar panels. I use evaporation cooling and I heat my house by bringing hot air into the house from out of the ceiling. I am not concerned about pollution I do it to save money.

Julian Pfitzner
Julian Pfitzner
6 years ago

Thanks Ian. We hear about the hurricanes in the news but we are a long way away in Australia. It is sobering to hear from someone who has experienced a hurricane. We send our prayers to the people of the Caribbean who have suffered so much and will send tangible support as well. Perhaps these hurricanes will be a wake up call to those who doubt the science of climate change.

Karen A Larre
Karen A Larre
6 years ago

Thank you for sharing about this very emotional issue, Ian.

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