MARYVILLE, Tenn. — Logan Frazier’s lifetime dream of studying to be a doctor became a nightmare when a Category 5 hurricane swept over her medical school on a Caribbean island.
Although she was one of the first students evacuated from Ross University School of Medicine on Dominica and returned to Maryville on Sept. 24, the 22-year-old says she can’t sleep well until all her friends are off the island.
Frazier was among 10 students on the top, third floor of the Portsmouth Beach Hotel when Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 18-19 with sustained winds of at least 160 mph.
A total of about 1,500 university students from 46 countries were on the island.
Although another hurricane hit Ross’s sister school, the American University of the Caribbean on St. Martin, on Dominica, “Irma was just a rain storm,” Frazier said.
On Sept. 17, Frazier said she studied 14 hours for a test the following day before receiving an email alert that classes would be canceled.
At that time, everyone anticipated Maria would be a Category 1 or 2 storm when it reached Dominica, with winds of up to 110 mph. When students arrived on campus in late August, they received a disaster lecture that told them to prepare for storms with up to three days of water.
Frazier had a 5-liter jug and six 1-liter bottles. “It lasted me four days,” she said. “I left the water I had behind for the boys,” she said, referring to the male students who still were on the island a week after the storm, waiting for evacuation.
Listening to news from Puerto Rico on Sept. 18, students knew the storm had reached Category 3 before their power went out at 4 p.m. “By 7 o’clock, we heard it was a Category 4,” Frazier said, which means winds up to 156 mph. Students received messages over their “island phones,” cellphones they use for communication on Dominica, to take shelter.
The beachfront hotel’s generator lasted for about an hour, and at 8:18 p.m. Frazier lost her phone connection with her family in Maryville.
She was in her bathroom with pillows, blankets, water, snacks and her to-go bag, a waterproof backpack that held her medication, school notes, laptop and two changes of clothes. She wound the “Big Sis” necklace one of her three younger sisters had given her around one of the cords on the bag.
“About 10:30 is when we heard the restaurant fall apart,” Frazier said. “It sounded like a subway was coming down the hall,” and the power lines were snapping.
Water came into her room through the edges around her windows.
As the eye of the hurricane was apparently passing over, the equivalent of a terrible thunderstorm, Frazier explained, the students checked on each other and the surroundings.
“Everything around us was basically gone,” she said. “All the trees were stripped.”
The university’s student center, usually invisible behind the trees, was in clear view, beyond downed power lines.
Then the wind switched directions, and the worst part of the storm hit between about 12:40 and 1:30 a.m.
“That’s when my room started to flood,” Frazier said, and she used blankets and pillows to try to keep water from the bathroom.
“The door was starting to bend,” she said, as it was saturated with water. “The water was flying across the room,” at a force that hurt when it hit her.
“I knew I was going to make it,” she said, but she was worried not everyone would.
A week after the storm the death toll on the island had reached 30.
At 3:30 a.m., the winds were calmer. “We were all kind of scared for the morning to come,” she said, worried about what they would see in the daylight.
When daybreak came she told her friends, “Grab what you can’t live without,” and they headed to the campus.
Before the students left the hotel where they had lived for the past few weeks, the man who picked up and delivered their laundry came to check on them and warned them that the locals were going to become desperate.
Walking to campus usually took the students three minutes, but that Tuesday morning crossing downed power lines made it a half-hour journey.
Faculty members who lived farther away were delayed arriving on campus, and at first they couldn’t locate the school’s satellite phones.
When students showed up for the first check-in at 3 p.m., they were told to prepare to survive for up to two weeks.
The roof of the student center was partially caved in, and there was no electricity or running water.
Students created a spreadsheet with their names, passport information and emergency contacts, later transmitted through the satellite phone, and they set up a clinic.
Each day the students had a 3 p.m. roll call on campus. “It kind of resembled ‘The Hunger Games,'” Frazier said.
“We cracked open coconuts on the sidewalk,” she said, and they picked up the guava that had fallen from the trees.
Curfew was at 4 p.m. “There were looters with machetes and dogs,” Frazier said, and the students could see them from the school.
By that Thursday the students pulled together their resources and served a meal of pasta and rice. That also was the day running water was restored. “I think we all cried,” she said.
Frazier survived mostly on Clif bars, which arrived in a care package a week earlier from Tony Denton and J.D. Heffernan, who she said have been like fathers to her. They had even included tea so she could make sweet tea.
She sat with new friends Marissa from Allentown, Pa., Julia from New Orleans and Farzan from Chicago, who dubbed them the “porch ladies.”
As they sat on the porch, Frazier said, “I was praying for the Coast Guard.”
The first boat the university chartered to take students off Dominica had room for 190 people, the first for parents with children and anyone needing medical attention.
When they opened up spots for other women, “We ran upstairs,” Frazier said, and she was No. 70.
“It was by luck and grace,” she said of how she was able to get on the first boat, a sailing ship with a motor.
It was the birthday of one of her friends, and Frazier said, “We found Oreos, and we had a celebration.”
The young women left Farzan and their other male friends as much food as they could. “They’re still on the island,” Frazier said on Sept. 25.
“We saw the devastation of Dominica from the boat,” she said. The usually blue water was brown, and the green vegetation had been stripped from the island like a wildfire burned through it.
The wooden shacks in which the locals live were gone, and students saw no signs of life in the capital of Roseau. Still, she said, “The sunset was beautiful.”
But the sea was rough and the boat trip to St. Lucia took 12 hours. “Everyone got sea sick,” she said.
When the boat was near Martinique and word spread they had cellphone service, she began calling her family. She thought, “Papaw’s going to kill me for the phone bill.”
She even called her sister Jayley Frazier, who answered even though she was in class at Heritage High School, and Logan heard the students clapping in the background when Jayley announced her sister was OK.
On St. Lucia, the students were taken to a resort with food, showers and beds. “I cried with happiness about chocolate cake,” she said, but still she couldn’t sleep.
She spent hours responding to the hundreds of messages she had received from friends and family over Facebook.
When the plane that would take the students to Miami landed on St. Lucia, she said, “we all cheered.”
They arrived in Miami at 4 a.m. on Sept. 24, and within 30 minutes Frazier learned she would be arriving in Knoxville at 2 p.m.
As soon as she could see her family at McGhee Tyson Airport, Frazier said, “I dropped my bags and ran as fast as I could.” Her grandmother, two uncles, three sisters, niece and “dads” all embraced her in one giant hug.
Then they headed to her grandparents’ home for a full Sunday dinner. Frazier had one Clif bar left in the bottom of her pack.
She fell asleep that night on the couch cuddling her 1-year-old niece, Drakeley, but slept for only three hours. “You can’t sleep knowing your friends are there,” she said.
The students don’t know what the university’s plan is for resuming classes, but if it was possible to return to Dominica, Frazier said, “I’d go in a heartbeat.”
She and other students are concerned about the local residents they saw daily but they didn’t know by name, such as the laundry man and the smoothie lady.
One thing Frazier hopes to do is send medical supplies to Salybia, a health clinic serving the indigenous community that was founded in 2002 by medical students on the island.
Even during the worst days after the hurricane, the Ross students knew they would be going home at some point. The local people, she said, “they didn’t have that hope.”
Frazier said she believes that she was on the island during the hurricane for a reason. “It’s going to help us be greater physicians,” she said. Among the few items she brought in her backpack are her stethoscope and white coat.
Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.thedailytimes.com