SOURCE: WCSH6.COM By Jessica Gagne
September 11, 2017
(NEWS CENTER) -- Hurricane Irma hit the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. John and St. Thomas last Wednesday as a Category 5 storm, with wind gusts up to 185 miles per hour. Mainers were there when it happened. NEWS CENTER spoke with several of them on Monday, including a Brunswick family that lived through the nightmare and knows first-hand just how much the islands need help.
The Bettingers were among 13 adults, four kids under the age of four and five dogs forced to seek shelter in a laundry room when Irma hit St. John.
"All of a sudden my son looks up at us and says, 'Daddy, there's water coming," says Peter Bettinger, who grew up in Brunswick.
For four hours, the Bettinger family and others held mattresses against the door and soaked up water with their shirts. When it was finally safe to come out, they saw massive damage to their home and the land surrounding it.
The Bettingers live in an apartment on the side of country singer Kenny Chesney's St. John home. Chesney sent manpower and a chopper full of supplies to the island as soon as possible. The Bettingers were then offered a ride off the island. They say it was hard to leave their friends behind, but they had to do what was best for their two young children.
Home, restaurants and businesses in St. John are in shambles. The Bettingers were told it could take months to restore power to the area. Tourist destinations, which this island thrives on, were annihilated. The worst part, they say, was having no way to know if their friends and family members were safe.
"No cell phone service, nothing. You can't reach anyone because you can't drive anywhere, you can't get anywhere," says Jordan Holt-Bettinger.
The Bettingers and other Maine families are asking for help for those on the islands. Here are links to websites they suggest you donate to:
Love for Love City - Kenney Chesney's foundation for Irma relief
As the days pass without enough necessities like food and clean water, the friendly and kind island that the Bettingers call home becomes a scarier place.
"It's the wild west. And people do what they can to survive, and you don't know what that's going to take," says Peter Bettinger.
Neighbors the Bettingers have known for the 15 years they've called St. John home are trapped in the destruction, with no idea how long it will take to get back to normal life.
"This is an island in the Caribbean, a U.S. territory where people are struggling," says Jordan Holt-Bettinger. "It's going to be a really long struggle."
NEWS CENTER also spoke with the family and friends of Mainers from Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach who lived through the hurricane. They stressed the fact that the islands need support from good samaritans and the government in order to keep people safe and keep the economy functioning.
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