Jaimez Stoutt, 27, survived Hurricane Irma with his grandparents and his great-aunt, who is in her 90s. They started out in their one-storey concrete house in Huntums Ghut, but after the wood roof gave way, they ran into another building during the eye of the storm. The United States Army veteran, an engineer at CCT, said his military training and service in Afghanistan helped him survive the ordeal. The following are his words, as told the week after Irma. He and his grandparents and great-aunt have since evacuated to the United States, but he plans to return.

When the hurricane was coming, I was at home with my grandma and my great-aunt, who’s about 90, and my grandpa. My aunt just came down for the hurricane; her whole house is gone actually, so if she didn’t come she’d have been ripped up also.

During the hurricane I was watching my neighbour’s roof actually getting lifted off, and in that instant I realised ours more than likely would go next. I always have my Army boots in the house, so I started putting on my socks. I put on my boots and my work pants — the first pair I could get — and literally as I put it on the roof peeled off.

Nowhere to hide

Before the roof peeled off, I was telling my grandparents to put on shoes, but they didn’t, you know. So now when the roof peeled off, I ran in the living room and grabbed my great-aunt first and took her in the kitchen; went back, grabbed my grandma, took her in there. My grandfather, he could walk, so he walked in there.

I got the dining room table, put it in the walkway to kind of stop stuff from blowing in on us — just taking refuge behind that for a minute — but then my aunt, because she’s pretty old, she couldn’t really stand too long, so she asked me to get a chair for her. When I went out to get a chair, a block hit me in the neck: throw me down, almost knock me out. But I got up, went to get the chair. I got one for my granny and one for my [great-aunt].

While we was in there, the kitchen door was taking so much damage from what was going on outside. We had a metal door with metal shutters and they was just bending like they was about tear off. I say if that door rip off we gonna die in here. So I open the fridge now and I basically rip out everything that was in there; fling it out. And then I throw the fridge basically slanted by the sink on the ground so they could put their head under it.

While we was in there taking refuge, I noticed on our roof we have a lot of blocks there ready to fall, and I said to myself those blocks gonna fall on us if they come down. So I observed that my grandfather’s closet basically had a roof, even though the roof was gone in the whole house. I said that probably would have been the safest place. So I basically grabbed them again: grabbed my aunt, carry she over there; then put she on a box; then went back for my granny, did the same thing. And all this time the wind blowing, everything flying out through the house. My grandfather went over there, and we was in there for a little bit.

Storm’s-eye escape

When the eye came now, I already say, “We can’t stay here; we gotta get out of here.” So I went outside and I looked and they had an apartment building right next to James Todman apartment building that was completely destroyed and everybody in the building was basically running downstairs to take refuge in one apartment room.

I shouted, “Yo, we got space over there?” And they was like, “Yeah!” So I grabbed my aunt and I had to carry them over there because they didn’t have on shoes. They diabetic, so if they got a cut any time they could have bled out, you know? So I grabbed her, walked over the rubble across the road to the apartment; went back to my grandma, did the same thing. My grandfather followed.

It was about 20 of us in this building, and they was basically trying to board up their porch door and windows because they hadn’t broken as yet. I was telling them, “Yo, that is gonna break still!” My aunt was sitting right by the window and I didn’t feel safe with her sitting there.

I could already see that something was going to happen, so I grab her again and I pick her up to move her from there. And I overheard the eye pass and blow back open everything, break all the windows. Then glass start flying everywhere, and I had just [carried] her into the bathroom where everyone was taking refuge.

Whoever couldn’t make it was stuck behind a couch, because the living room and the kitchen basically lost everything. It was like a constant flow of air through the house, so you had people taking refuge in the kitchen: some behind the couch, and like 15 of us in the bathroom.

The elderly had to sit down on the tub, the toilet, because they couldn’t stand. You had a little girl on the sink. It was packed and hot. We had to hold up a sheet by the doorway because the glass was everywhere and we didn’t want it to get in there.

First aid

While we was in there, I was assessing, making sure nobody bleeding, because you don’t want anyone bleeding out. When I was in the military I was a combat lifesaver, so I know what to do when it comes to stopping bleeding and stuff like that.

When the storm passed, we moved from there to another secure building that wasn’t damaged. I had a buddy whose bone was sticking out of his hand; I had to put a tourniquet on his arm. Then I went around to assess other guys. There was one guy who got sucked out of his house, and he was basically in agonising pain, but he wasn’t bleeding, so I told them to leave him for while because I thought it was his spine, you know. But he ended up walking to the hospital when he get a little better.

After the storm

I had my great-aunt, my grandfather and my granny who I had to deal with, and me and a couple other guys was sleeping in a daycare, in cribs and stuff. The elderly was in a building that was actually pretty safe. We left them over there because they needed the space. And every morning, man, it was a challenge: I had to get up, go down the road to get food for the three of them; make sure they eat. And you know with old people you can’t get too much stuff with sugar. You got to get certain stuff. It was just a constant struggle.

My aunt, two days into it, her daughter was coming for her, but they couldn’t come get her because they didn’t know where she was and they didn’t have no communications. But they came in the nick of time because she was taking ill from not getting her medication for like two days. Everything blow out of the house.

Hospital lobby

I had her insulin and I kept it cool for two days in a freezer, which was basically drying up. I eventually took her to the hospital because Jose was coming and I didn’t have sufficient medical stuff to deal with her.

We lost all her pills: She took about five, six pills a day, and all of them blew away. So I wanted her there. And actually it was a good thing I took her there, because the doctors say her pressure was getting really high and I didn’t know. If I didn’t go, she probably would have been in a bad situation.

She was in the hospital a couple days. It was kind of frustrating because they was basically downplaying a lot of stuff with the old people. They was basically focusing on patients that was already taken in and not really taking care of the elderly. They wasn’t really giving them food and stuff like that, so even though they were in the hospital lobby, every day breakfast, lunch and dinner I had to take for them; water.

They was in the lobby the whole time. They wasn’t in the hospital; they was in the lobby. I had to basically still do everything while they was in the hospital. It was kind of breaking me down, because I don’t like to see my granny like that. She have a lot ailments and she’s not getting good sleep, she’s not getting to shower; her skin was peeling. It was a bad situation.

Feeling helpless

I feel if it wasn’t for me it would have been worse because I had the military experience when I deployed. To me, here ain’t that bad because nobody trying to kill you here, but man… .

When you don’t have answers you feel helpless. This is the first time in my life I didn’t have answers. But I figured it out.

Everybody got a story, so I won’t make it seem like mine’s the worst one. But it was pretty bad, and my grandfather tell me all the time that if I wasn’t there they would’ve died, because they would’ve stayed right in there and everything fall on them.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Freeman Rogers.


This article originally appeared in the Oct. 12, 2017 edition.