Watch: Sonesta Resort Employee Describes His Experience, the Magnitude & Destruction of Irma (Video/Photos)

When I went to bed on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, I was afraid of what I would see when I woke up in the morning. As I searched the internet for any news of the conditions in Saint Martin, all I could find was this picture. It was an absolute worst case scenario. My heart sunk.

There I was, sitting at my computer in Phoenix, Arizona, just staring at this picture in complete disbelief. The eye of Irma was sitting directly over the island. I thought of all the people there and what they must have been going through. I couldn’t even begin to imagine it.

For a while, that was all the information I could find so I knew that things were going to be bad. Nothing could have prepared us for the images that started coming out of Saint Martin later that day. Over the next couple of days we’d start to get more information on the magnitude of the absolute devastation on the island. Even now, I’ll admit, it’s so hard to comprehend without being there.

Shep Shepard is a member of the management team at the Sonesta Maho Resort next to the Princess Juliana International Resort. The resort is also on the famed Maho Beach, where aircraft buzz over the heads of sunbathers as they stand arms open to the sky.

If you’ve been to Saint Martin (Sint Maarten on the Dutch side), chances are very good that you’ve spent some time on this unique beach, maybe had a few beers at the Sunset Beach Bar. I know that my kids absolutely love it there. My wife and I have stayed at the Sonesta a few times. It was a go-to hotel for airline employees coming to the island, so we were quite familiar with the area.

Some of the very first pictures that started to come in on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, showing the damage of the hurricane were from the Sonesta Resort. At first, I thought, “That’s not the Sonesta. It must be a picture of some construction nearby.” Seeing exposed steel beams of a building isn’t something I’ve ever seen except when a building was being built. That was, before I saw some of the pictures of the Sonesta.


    For Shepard, he couldn’t imagine the destruction that was happening outside as he and the hotel guests hid away in the shelter during the storm. He described the situation to CBS New York, saying, “I don’t think anything could prepare you for what we saw when you got outside. It’s as close, I imagine, as to what it looks like when an atomic bomb has gone off.”

    On Friday, Shepard was also interviewed by CNN. Here’s that full clip:

    Seeing pictures and listening to descriptions is one thing. Being there and experiencing Hurricane Irma is something most of us will never be able to understand. All we can ever do is try to comprehend it and do our best to help those who have gone through something, and are in a situation, that is absolutely horrific.

    The most important thing we can all do is donate, now, later, as much and as frequently as we can. The need on Saint Martin is monumental. Give, please.

    Photo credit: All photos are via @jonathanfalwell Twitter

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    Jon Ferlise

    I fell in love with the island of Saint Martin the first time I visited to celebrate my 40th birthday in May of 2009. Since then, I've spent most birthdays there, and have visited countless other times getting to know this wonderful place and the friendly locals that make it so special. I adore the culture, the people, the community, and the beauty of this stunning island. SXM Strong is a website that I started to support humanitarian relief efforts following Hurricane Irma. There was no plan, it just evolved as I witnessed the devastation that Irma caused the island and the huge need to communicate and disseminate information about what had happened and how people could help support this island and its people.

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