“The winds were absolutely terrifying,” Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz told Chabad.org. “You could hear it; you feel the pressure in your ears. I thought the windows would explode at any moment.”
Chanowitz, who has lived on St. Martin for 8 years with his wife and five children, said that during the heart of the storm the family decided to relocate into the mikvah area, which is situated in the center of the building and completely windowless.
“The moment we got our last child into the mikvah area,” said the rabbi, “the front door of the Chabad House flew clean off. It was terrifying.”
While the mikvah has no windows, it does have a door, which the Chanowitzes blocked by dragging a commercial freezer in front of it.
“We have hurricane-proof doors and windows; it’s not like we weren’t prepared,” he said. “But this was off the charts. The mikvah saved us.”
Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm with top wind speeds of 185 mph when it hit St. Martin, has killed at least 13 people in the Caribbean.
St. Martin, also known as Sint Maarten, is a 34-square mile island located in the northern Leeward Islands and is divided between France and the Netherlands.
“There is considerable damage,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, adding that local authorities in Saint Martin said 95 percent of the houses there had been damaged, and 60 percent were uninhabitable, Reuters reported.
“There is no electricity, no drinkable water, gasoline is unavailable,” Philippe said.
Irma is expected to target the Bahamas and the southeastern United States from Florida to the Carolinas in the coming days.