Escaping Hurricane Irma



With Hurricane Irma tracking over St. John, USVI, I knew that Sunday morning I must plan my escape to Boston, Massachusetts. A place I call home and far from Hurricane Irma’s track.

Calling airlines and finding accommodations on route from St. John to Boston, MA took five hours. The closest city to Boston I could fly to was New York City. My plane would leave on Wednesday hours before Hurricane Irma was arriving on St. John, USVI. Feeling pleased, I prepared to spend the afternoon at Hawks Nest Beach in St. John, USVI.

An hour after my plans were complete, the call arrived. The one that informed me to leave NOW. Your escape plan will NOT get you out of the Caribbean before Hurricane Irma arrives. Take a carry on, get on the St. John ferry to get to the airport in St. Thomas. The Hurricane is tracking over us and not heading north which is typical. Just go!

To absorb the shock and create inner calm, I showered pondering the urgent directive and to give my adventurous spirit an opportunity to emerge. My shocked self subsided while my problem solving and adventurous selves activated. My adventurous self supplied the optimism and excitement while my problem-solving self started asking these questions.

Where is the worst location to be trapped?

Why is that location considered the worst?

What items do you need to be comfortable if you are trapped in an airport for two weeks?

The answers slowly revealed themselves. St. Thomas airport would be the worst place to be trapped. It’s small, primarily glass structure will easily shatter from blowing debris that hits the glass in 150-180 miles an hour winds. The airport has only two restaurants so food supplies would be limited if I’m trapped for a couple of weeks. It’s clear that I want to leave St. Thomas and its airport.

To feel comfortable, I packed a handful of undies, leggings, a sweatshirt, a scarf, a skirt, two t-shirts, a nightgown, a face cloth, and a towel. While a nightgown is a strange choice for the airport sleeping having the soft cotton fabric close to my skin would induce sleep and a sense of comfort. I would cover it with my large sweatshirt and leggings. A fluffy face cloth and towel would be welcome when cleaning oneself in an airport bathroom.

With my backpack filled, I opened my large tote bag and filled it with my computer, a novel, a magazine, an empty journal, hard-boiled eggs, papaya, and leftovers. These carefully selected items would provide distractions and nourishment.

I pulled my favourite jersey dress over my head that could double as a nightgown or sleeping pad, grabbed my bags for the escape, then drove to catch St. John’s 5:00 pm ferry on Sunday, Sept 3. Having no idea how to return to Boston, Massachusetts before Hurricane Irma decimated St. John, USVI. Getting off the island of St. John and to St. Thomas was step 1.

Departing the ferry boat in St. Thomas, I asked the taxi driver to take me to the airport. With his quizzical expression, he explained the major airlines were done flying for the day. Uninterested in driving me to the St. Thomas airport, he passed me to another taxi driver who agreed to take me after he dropped all the other passengers in his van.

Once the van was empty of other passengers the taxi driver and I chatted about Irma, seasonal changes in the Caribbean, and how I could get to Boston, Massachusetts. We discussed the smaller planes routes and the larger airlines routines. While he reminded me with a smile that you need to live for today.

The only active airlines at 6:00 pm on Sunday where the two smaller carriers Seaborne and Cape Air. The smaller airlines fly shorter routes. My goal was to book the 25-minute flight from St. Thomas, USVI to San Juan, Puerto Rico who had a large, international airport. While Cape Air said they had no flights, Seaborne Air did. They had 2 seats for San Juan, Puerto Rico for 9:45 am the next day, Monday. While this news didn’t remove me from Hurricane Irma’s track, it placed me at an airport where my chances increased to get home to Boston, Massachusetts.

With my ticket in hand and a smile on my face, the taxi driver took notice and said, you must have good news! I was thrilled to know that the St. Thomas airport, the location I felt was the worst place to be trapped in Hurricane Irma, was now a stop on my return to Boston and not a place I would be “living” while the storm raged outside. One problem solved!

Next problem, finding accommodations in St. Thomas for the night. From my research, before I was implored to flee, I read about a seaside hotel close to the airport. Since the taxi driver was kind enough to wait for me at the airport, he dropped me at the Windward Passage Hotel that thankfully had availability.

While the taxi driver and I said goodbye, I tipped him 50%. Looking back, it was hardly sufficient. His tip should have been 100%, he was delightful and helpful and two days later Hurricane Irma would decimate his island home of St. Thomas. I’m sure he could have used the extra money.

With my hotel room secured and an empty belly, the next task was dinner. Without a belly full of food, my thinking would be impaired and my attitude dim. Clear thinking was imperative! The lovely receptionist at the Windward Passage, directed me to an open-air restaurant that served decent food and delicious fruited ice tea. Since it was still happy hour, I got 2 for 1 with the ice teas. A treat that brought a smile to my face! Throughout my healthy dinner, I updated friends and family that I was on the run from Hurricane Irma.

Luckily, finding a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the continental United States wasn’t as troublesome as I feared. Jet Blue didn’t have availability to Boston or New York (a 5-hour drive to Boston) or to any of the roughly 8 surrounding airports. There was a 6:10 pm Monday night flight from San Juan to Washington, DC. While Washington, DC is an 8-hour drive from Boston, I was out of Hurricane Irma’s path. An important goal!

I now had a completed escape route. On the next day Monday, Sept 4, I would fly from St. Thomas airport at 945 am to San Juan, Puerto Rico. At 610 pm, Jet Blue would fly me from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Washington, DC. Contacting a high school friend, who has lived in DC for years proved to be fruitful. She quickly responded to my request for hotel recommendations near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in DC since my flight arrived at 10:00 pm, too late to leave DC for Boston. I would need to spend the night in DC.

Gratefully, my 15-hour day of travel was uneventful except for a St. Thomas rooster that began cock-doodle-doing at 3:00 am and didn’t stop until 7:00 am. There was a moment of utter glee when I ordered a cappuccino with whipped cream at Black Coffee in Terminal A of the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport; it was the BEST whipped cream I ever had. It was so good I texted a friend in Massachusetts to share the discovery! I wish took a picture of it for Instagram!

Not only did I fall in love with my cappuccino’s whipped cream, but I also booked the last leg of my escape from Irma while waiting in San Juan’s airport for 8 hours for my flight to Washington, DC. On Tuesday, Sept 5th at 6:45 pm I would leave Washington, D.C. arriving in Boston, my final destination, at 8:39 PM. Having an entire day to wander DC, visit Lincoln’s and Jefferson’s Memorial and walk along the beautiful pathway along the Reflecting Pool. Spending a day unrestricted in an airport or airplane was thrilling to me.

While the long day of travel to escape the Caribbean went off without a hitch, not so much with the final leg of the escape. Just after I checked in with my brother who was picking me up in Boston to tell him we were leaving on time, we were delayed. It turned out only to be an hour, enough time to have a cookie and a cup a tea before we boarded.

As I waited for my brother to pick me up in Boston, I had a slew of texts to respond to. Friends and family members who were starting to see the news and hearing about the force of Irma, and wondering where I was….

It was nice to be able to tell them I was home at last.

About the Author


Julia is on a continuous improvement plan. She constantly asks herself, “Is there a healthier way I can do this?” whether it means creating a delightful vegetarian dish or polishing off a bag of Milano Cookies. She is as interested in physical health as emotional. She mines her intuitive self for healing, soul growth, and personal growth. Beside writing she enjoys yoga, traveling, silence, football, and laughter. But not necessarily in that order.

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