CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Roger and Sydney Davies were prepared for sun tans, snorkeling expeditions and dips in the resort pool when they arrived Sept. 1 at the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas.
Then they got an email.
“It said, ‘We’ve got a hurricane, and you might want to consider not coming,'” Roger said.
On Sept. 6, the Davieses would find themselves in a sweaty hotel room, surrounded by candles, waiting for Hurricane Irma to pass.
The Category 5 storm ripped through the U.S. Virgin Islands last week, killing at least three people and stranding thousands of others without food or resources.
The Davieses would make it to Puerto Rico, New York City and Denver before the ordeal was over, but the couple and their family said they’re using this experience to help educate others.
“WE WERE GOING TO BE IN FOR A RIDE”
Irma was just a blip off the coast of Africa when Roger and Sydney left for vacation with Sydney’s cousin and her husband.
The couple was slightly concerned about the storm, but Marriott assured them everything would be fine.
“I don’t think they anticipated this hurricane,” Roger said.
By the time the Davieses arrived in St. Thomas, people were scheduling flights off the island, and the couple had to decide whether to stay or go.
They decided to go on with the vacation. Roger and Sydney sat out by the pool, went snorkeling and sat on the boardwalk. They took in the sights of white, sandy beaches and lush green foliage.
By the time it became clear that the storm was headed their way, there were no more flights off the island.
“It became very anxiety-producing,” Roger said. “As we got closer, we realized that we were going to be in for a ride.”
Sydney, a California native, and Roger, who is from Utah, had never experienced a hurricane before.
“It was our first rodeo,” Sydney said.
Luckily, the two had a fourth-floor room in a sturdy building at the Marriott Vacation Club facility at Frenchman’s Cove. The hotel was equipped with hurricane-proof windows and a few large generators.
The Davieses stocked up on water, nonperishable food and candles. But the preparation didn’t stop them from worrying.
“The night before (the storm), I’ve never really slept so restlessly, knowing there was impending doom,” Sydney said.
Hundreds of questions ran through her head: How am I going to get out? What if there’s a landslide? What if the building doesn’t hold up?
“You’re thinking of every scenario,” she said. “It was crazy.”
THE WALL OF THE HURRICANE HITS
At around 8 a.m. Sept. 6, the power shut off on St. Thomas Island.
The hotel’s generators kicked in and offered some relief, but the winds began howling.
The Davieses moved furniture inside from the balcony and barricaded the largest window in the room with a mattress.
The winds got stronger, and the trees began to sway. An 80-foot palm snapped in half, while another fallen tree smashed the hotel’s generator.
The Davieses and the couple with them played card games by candlelight, trying to distract themselves from the storm.
“It was loud and intense,” Roger said. “Just the force of the wind would hit you, and it’d be so loud.”
It was so humid in the room that tile floors became slick with moisture. The air pressure fluctuated and made their ears pop.
At the storm’s peak, Roger said it looked like Wyoming during a blizzard — they couldn’t even see 10 feet from their room.
St. Thomas was located in the wall of the hurricane, just north of the eye. That meant unrelenting 185-mile winds blew for nearly seven hours, ravaging the island and destroying many buildings.
FEARS AT HOME SHARED BY CHILDREN
Back on the mainland, Roger and Sydney’s six children were panicking.
Roger said he sent one of his children instructions about how to access the house and log onto his iPad, and how to find his living trust and life insurance.
“I made an emotionally technical error, but it was a correct thing I did,” he said.
Sydney chimed in, “This is the worst hurricane they’ve ever had. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
One of their daughters, Jessica Mortensen, was home in Idaho when she got the last message from them Sept. 5, saying the winds were picking up.
“We don’t realize how much we depend on our ability to communicate with people,” Mortensen said. “So when you’re halfway across the world, and all of a sudden you lose contact because your parents are in a hurricane, it’s really scary and it’s really emotional.”
Late at night on Sept. 6, Mortensen got some relief — another message letting her know that her parents had survived. At that point, she got busy trying to get them home.
But without access to their emails or flight information, Mortensen had no idea how to help them.
“When people are going on vacation, they really need to have information ready on hand for one person,” she said. “Passwords to everything, all flight confirmations, where vehicles are — just that information is key if you have to reschedule anything.”
Luckily a spotty message came through from Sydney’s cousin — it said something about getting to Puerto Rico.
GETTING HOME NOT AN EASY TRIP
Sydney and Roger stayed in the hotel on St. Thomas for two more days without electricity and with limited running water.
“Finally staff came around and said you’ve gotta be packed, one bag, and we’re going to transport you (to Puerto Rico),'” Roger said.
They went down to the dock with more than hundreds of other Marriott guests, where the ferry was supposed to pick them up. But after more than an hour, nothing had come.
“We kept waiting and waiting,” Sydney said. “We knew the resort was running out of resources, and we had no way to communicate with our families at all.”
The island was decimated.
Power lines lay over the streets, lush greenery was replaced by brown leaves and mud, palm tree trunks jutted out of the ground.
It’s going to take months — if not years — for the island to be put back together.
“(People on the island) will not have power for six months . they were stranded,” Roger said, tears welling in his eyes.
When they got to Puerto Rico, Roger and Sydney got in touch with Mortensen, who had booked a flight home.
They had a layover in New York City before flying to Denver late Monday night. Then they headed back to Cheyenne.
RELIEVED TO FINALLY GET BACK HOME
On their couch, Sydney and Roger said they were tired, but grateful for the lessons they had learned.
“It’s an event that you go through that you know should never be forgotten,” Roger said. “You should never take for granted what you have.”
“And there are a lot of people who live in circumstances .” Sydney said.
“. That we have to look after,” Roger said.
“We’ve left and come home to safety, but there are people who are left with nothing,” Sydney said. “It’s devastating.”
Sydney’s cousin started a GoFundMe page for a church the two couples visited on the island.
And Sydney recommended people take a flashlight and radio with them on vacation if they are likely to run into bad weather.
The Davieses give Marriott, Delta Airlines and the other travelers in the hotel a lot of the credit for helping them through their journey.
“People are good, they really are,” Roger said.
When asked whether they’d visit the Caribbean again, Roger said, “I think I would.”
“But definitely not in hurricane season.”
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com