Illinois State Sen. Iris Martinez revealed Monday how she managed to survive after being left stranded in the wake of Hurricane Irma on a Caribbean island last week.
Martinez was vacationing in the French-Dutch island of St. Martin, one of the hardest hit islands where at least 10 people were left dead by the storm.
“Nobody can expect what a hurricane category 5, I mean you hear about it and you know, but to live it, the whole ordeal and just thinking, ‘Is it ever going to pass?’” she told NBC 5 just hours after her return home Monday. “I was hunkered down in my room, I was in the bathroom - it was the only safest place that they told all the tourists there vacationing.”
A spokesperson for Martinez's office said she had texted the senator a couple of days before the hurricane hit to see if she would be returning from her trip early, but Martinez replied that she couldn't leave.
Martinez described heart-stopping winds, floods, a lack of water and deteriorating conditions as the deadly storm tore through the string of Caribbean islands beginning Wednesday.
“The ordeal itself, that hour and a half when the pounding really started and I was locked in the bathroom, just holding onto the door because the winds in the apartment, no matter - you have the windows shut, you know, you have the patio doors closed…The wind was just so fierce that at one point I thought that the front kitchen door would go through the bathroom door where I was up against with my friend,” she said.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” she added.
At least 24 people died in Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Martin, St. Barts, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
After the storm, Martinez began surveying the damage along with residents in the area. She managed to get to a place where she could find cell phone service and used a local’s phone to contact the U.S.
“We were in contact, I was up and down that road trying to get people to at least them know what was going on with the situation but then it started getting pretty bad with the lack of water as every day passed,” she said. “People were just depending on me to keep it moving, to keep the pressure on.”
Martinez’s daughter, Jacklyn Nicole, pleaded on Facebook for help for her mother.
“We have been in contact with the Governor in Puerto Rico, US Senator Durbin, Congressman Gutierrez, the US Coast guard, Dutch and French Embassy and President Trumps [sic] office,” she wrote on Friday. “Working on getting her airlifted on a boat and taken to Puerto Rico for medical and then hopefully back home to Chicago by next week. I will continue to keep you guys posted as I am being briefed. Thanks for all of your support and asking everyone to keep not only my mother in your thoughts and prayers but everyone on that island.”
By Saturday, Martinez was airlifted to Puerto Rico and was waiting to return to Chicago.
And she wasn’t alone.
The U.S. government said it was sending a flight Monday to evacuate its citizens from St. Martin. Evacuees were warned to expect long lines and no running water at the airport.
A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was expected to dock near St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and a boat was bringing a 5-ton crane capable of unloading large shipping containers filled with aid. A French military ship was scheduled to arrive Tuesday with materials to build temporary housing.
“Everybody that really worked, I want to say thank you because without those efforts I don’t know that I would have made it home, out of there when I did,” she said.