herald

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Irish couple trapped by Irma 'decided to risk it'

Satellite image of Hurricane Irma. Photo: AP
Satellite image of Hurricane Irma. Photo: AP

An Irish couple are trapped inside a hotel in Puerto Rico as the country braces itself for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma.

Heavy rain and 300kmh winds lashed Puerto Rico's north-east coast yesterday, as the hurricane roared through Caribbean islands on its way to a possible hit on south Florida.

Rebecca Mooney (25), from Blackrock, Dublin, arrived on Saturday after she and her boyfriend Mark Livingstone, from Mayo, "decided to take the risk".

"I got a phone call on Friday before we travelled and at that point they weren't expecting it to be out of the ordinary," Rebecca told the Herald.

"We thought that they were used to dealing with storms so we decided to risk it. It wasn't until we got here that we realised how big it is."

Destroyed

Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured, has destroyed homes and flooded streets across a chain of islands in the Caribbean, passing directly over Barbuda and leaving the island of some 1,700 people incommunicado.

Rebecca and Mark are due to leave Puerto Rico on Saturday but are waiting to hear if their flight will be cancelled. There are currently around 80 people in their hotel in San Juan, including staff and guests. Even though staff have been allowed go home, most have opted to stay and help the guests.

"The hotel staff has been absolutely amazing, giving us very regular updates and helpful evacuation meetings," she said.

"Because of that I'm a little less worried than I was on Tuesday, but I am very worried about the people who live here and don't have the luxury of well-built hotels."

Yesterday, the pair were taken through a hurricane briefing, where they were told the details of evacuation procedures.

Rebecca Mooney and Mark Livingstone are in the Puerto Rican capital San Juan
Rebecca Mooney and Mark Livingstone are in the Puerto Rican capital San Juan

The couple live in New York and, as many of their friends were visiting them over the summer, they decided to leave their holiday until now, which Rebecca said they thought "was a good time to go".

Architect and designer Rebecca said that "nobody is in the streets" and people have taken extra measures to board up any glass in their homes and businesses.

"A lot of the residents have boarded up their businesses," she said.

The power went in the hotel yesterday morning and a back-up generator was then employed by the hotel. Rebecca said the couple had "four beautiful and amazing days" before the storm gathered pace.

"It's an amazing place. Even yesterday morning we were out on the boat on the sea in glorious sunshine," she said. "Now if I look out the window, the birds can't even fly, the wind is that strong."

Killed

The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.

"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello. "A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force."

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