Shana and Dane Blanchard were on their honeymoon during a dream vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands when that dream vacation turned into a nightmare in the wake of Hurricane Irma's wrath and fury.
After having survived one of the few Hurricane Category 5 hurricanes to strike the Virgin Islands in the past quarter century, the couple were stranded for a time on their battered resort on the island of St. Thomas and had to be transported from the devastated island on a rescue ship to Puerto Rico.
"St. Thomas is wiped out," said Shana Blanchard, a Hernando resident, who is a Hernando High School graduate and the Estate and Trust Administrator at ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. "Some people that I talked to said their resort was completely destroyed."
The couple's resort on the island was the only one with power in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Electricity was restored some 24 hours after the storm. The resort had a generator.
Blanchard said tourists and native islanders who frequent the Virgin Islands said the storm was unprecedented.
"They had never seen a Category 5 before," Shana said. "They were shellshocked. It was definitely wild."
Of all the places in the world to honeymoon, the U.S. Virgin Islands was among the few unfortunate tourist destinations to score a direct hit from Irma.
"We landed at the airport last week and the lady at the check-in wasn't too worried," Shana recalled. "She said, 'yeah, we'll have a hurricane later in the week but we don't think it's going to be too bad. Monday we get there and the lady at the front desk of the resort said the port is closing. You guys will have to tough it out. We had a room right on the water but they moved us to a room in a villa up on the side of the mountain. We could still see everything from the balcony. Then, the wind picked up and the rain started in pretty heavy. Our building shook for a solid six hours. Our balcony was leaking water into our room. We looked out the next day and roofs were gone. Every palm tree was uprooted and laying across the street. Where it had been green a day before, everything was brown. It was just crazy. It was about six o'clock in the morning until everything stopped shaking."
Slowly, help on the island began to arrive, according to Shana.
The entire island was in shambles. Splintered boards lay everywhere. Power lines were torn down. Streets were littered with debris.
Even during the storm, they could watch the devastation from their balcony with help of glow sticks, which illuminated all the damage.
"About 1 a.m., a ship dropped off glow sticks for people on the island since the power was out. Meals were provided by the resort. They were wonderful. They arranged a rescue boat off the island. The firefighters were clearing out our villa to move the rescue workers in. Some of them hadn't had any rest or showers in days."
Shana said she and husband Dane only had thirty minutes to grab their belongings and climb aboard the rescue ship.
Shana said once passengers were loaded onto the rescue boat bound for Puerto Rico — a three-hour trip on choppy seas — they moved the most vulnerable below deck.
"They had all the children and the elderly on the deck below," Shana said.
The whole ordeal left an impression on Shana's new husband, Dane, who grew up in earthquake-prone California.
"I can remember the '89 earthquake in San Francisco," Shane said. "There was similar panic. But we got out OK. That's all that matters."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.