- Written by The BVI Beacon
- Published: 08 November 2017
Kate Jackson and her fiancé Alex Ashman rode out Hurricane Irma with their 5-month-old triplets in a Ridge Road house owned by Ms. Jackson’s mother, who was off island. Along with Ms. Jackson’s sister CJ and friends Nick Cunha and Jayne Gray, they huddled in a wheelchair-accessible bathroom during the first part of the storm as the prefabricated home crumbled around them. The parents and the triplets — Beatrice, Charlotte and Isabella — were evacuated three days after the storm. The family eventually reached the United Kingdom, but they hope to return soon. Below are Mses. Jackson’s and Gray’s words describing the ordeal.
Kate: Obviously having lived here for my whole life, I’ve been through at least one if not two Category Fives that I can recall, and I’ve never seen this type of devastation. I think we envisioned that we would be living without power.
Jayne: Yeah, we thought maybe some downed trees, maybe no power for a few days. We all woke up that morning feeling pretty fine, just waiting for it to pass by. I think we ended up having internet until about 9 a.m., maybe 9:30, and at that point we had the babies upstairs and nothing was really happening, but we felt a bit anxious.
K: We were in the babies’ bedroom and we could see the trees — like elastic bands — bouncing back and forth. We weren’t concerned, but all of a sudden there was just a moment where we were up there and it was time to move downstairs. The walls felt like they were vibrating.
J: At this point, it just seemed like a really windy bad storm, and I remember thinking, “Is this it?” We were in the kitchen and saw the washer and dryer go. Then the picnic benches, they went. Then we saw the balcony start to lift away. But even still at this point —
K: — it was like, “Ah, we’ll lose the balcony.”
J: At this point, we decided we were all going to go in the back room, so Alex closed the doors to the kitchen and the passageway.
K: And Alex put the fridge against one of the doors as a preventative.
J: We were all in there together; the cats were in there. Between that point, it was probably 30 seconds to a minute before the kitchen went, and that was really loud.
K: I remember Alex was holding the door shut, and I said grab one of the extension cords that was in my mother’s room. I was like, “Tie the door handles together.” It was one of those doors that doesn’t quite stay closed properly. He’s putting his whole weight into keeping this door closed. All of a sudden, there was this great big smash of glass. I said, “Oh my God: That’s the TV!” Then Nick and Alex went out to see what was going on, and Alex came back and said that the door was bowing. Within seconds of Alex coming back in, there was smashing around the kitchen.
J: Loads of glass just smashing. So Nick and Alex dropped everything and started getting the beds, getting the dresser, getting all of Kate’s mom’s furniture and bracing the doors. [Kate] grabbed a baby; I grabbed a baby; CJ grabbed a baby. I didn’t grab anything else. And we just ran into the bathroom shower cubicle.
K: My mum added the bathroom onto the end of the house — it was custom built, so it was big enough for a disabled person to wheel in. So the three women ended up on the back wall of the shower. At this point, Alex and Nick are in the heat of grabbing everything they can to throw against the door, and Nick came in with the mattress and he put it up against the window that was in the bathroom. One of the last things that Alex threw to me was the babies’ bottles. I literally just shoved those under my leg in the shower.
Alex and Nick came in, and within seconds — I don’t even know if I actually remember the moment where I felt the house blow away or if I’d known the house blew away or what happened. All I remember hearing — the best way I can describe it still to this day is imagine the worst airplane turbulence. Then outside all I can hear is what was probably the fridge, the washer, the dryer, just tumbling all around us.
The wall behind us was vibrating, and I just kept thinking one of our cars has to be airborne and it’s just going to come smashing down on us. I kept saying, “I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to do.” All I kept thinking was how am I gonna die and how am I gonna stop my babies from dying.
J: The three of us were huddled against a wall, and this wall was the only wall left standing. Every time there was a gust, you could feel the wall moving on your back. I remember saying to Kate, “If this wall goes, we’re dead.”
K: So the roof’s come off.
J: Something fell on our heads, and I actually think that protected us a little bit.
K: It was drywall: We used it as a protection. The three of us sat up against the wall and Alex and Nick were leaning over us, holding whatever they could over the top of us.
J: The scariest thing was because I was holding a baby and we had like a muslin blanket, there was so much water pouring on that the blanket was soaking, and the wind was so heavy that you could barely even lift your head to look. I remember thinking the baby’s gonna smother, because the baby was just snuggling and she didn’t cry. It was actually better having the babies because you didn’t even once think of yourself. It was all just, “God, don’t take the babies.” I said to Kate it felt like five minutes, and she told me we were in there for 40 minutes.
K: There was that moment we all said goodbye to each other.
J: I just reached for Nick and I for sure thought we’re not gonna survive. I said goodbye to Nick; I said I loved Kate and said goodbye. But it wasn’t fear. I didn’t feel any fear. I just felt like if this is how it’s gonna be, I’m gonna protect this baby, and that was it. There was no time to be hysterical or cry or be afraid.
K: It was literally just survival.
J: When the eye passed, we climbed out of whatever window.
K: The second floor of the house was on the Ridge Road, and the first floor of the house was just flattened.
J: We went to the generator room, which had no roof but has stone walls, which was better than where we were.
K: The three women stayed in the generator room with the babies.
J: We were cold; the babies were soaking wet. The generator room stunk of gas.
K: Alex and Nick ran down to the [Long Trench] hurricane shelter and came back and they’re like, “Roof’s gone; it’s not even a viable option.” Then they started clearing out a room just below the house where the water pump is.
J: It was inches deep in water, but we would have been in a better situation there because we would have had a roof.
K: Then my neighbour came over. I just remember seeing him and it was like, “How’s your house? Are you okay?” And he’s like, “Fine: I’ve lost a few windows, but I have a roof. Come over.” And we rode out the second half of the storm in his bathroom in the back corner of his house.
J: It was so grim. The bathroom was full of water. Of course the babies don’t know any different, so they still want food; they still want nappies. We didn’t have any nappies, but we had food. The second half of the storm wasn’t as bad for us, but the roof of the back room — we still felt it just kept lifting. It seemed like it lasted for hours, the second half. We made a little makeshift bed for the babies out of a wash basket, and gave them little turns. We made makeshift nappies out of pillowcases.
K: Then the storm passed and it was getting dark, and it was like, “We need to find some place to sleep.” That was the next thing. Fortunately, the apartment below — sadly had been trashed — but one room had a dry mattress.
J: It was the grimmest night of my life, but luckily the house had a linen closet, so we made some linen nappies for the babies. I think we went to bed at half past six, and then it was 12 hours of just waiting for the sun to come. In the morning, it was just like, “Oh my God: What has happened?” I stupidly thought my house would be okay and we’d bring the babies and we’d all be fine at my house. It took us an hour to get there through the trees, and when we got there of course my house was also completely trashed — no roof, no windows — and we hiked back. At that point we were like, “We can’t have the babies here another night: We’ve got to get to town.” So me, Nick and the neighbour decided to hike to town to try to find vehicles. We managed to find trucks, and we got the trucks back up to Long Trench. Then we had to hike up to Kate’s house over all the trees and hike back with the babies. We managed to get the babies to town. Luckily, we were walking to the KPMG building and Kate’s bosses [from KPMG] were walking past, and they were like, “You can stay here.” I think that’s the first time I felt safe.
K: Amazingly, our office sustained very minimal damage.
J: We spent two nights there.
K: We all got evacuated on Saturday. Obviously, the babies created some hype and there were people in the UK working tirelessly to get [us] there.
J: You really realise that all the materialistic things mean so little. Yeah, it’s heartbreaking to lose your stuff, but in reality it’s nothing compared to your life. I hope that realisation leads to a happier, more fulfilling future existence.
K: Possessions can be replaced; life cannot.
Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Freeman Rogers.