New York

Tri-State Families Stranded in Caribbean After Irma

One tri-state family wants nothing more than to get home after Hurricane Irma left them marooned on an island vacation -- while another is breathing a sigh of relief after finally making it back to the friendly confines of their Manhattan living room.

The Joaquim and Lee families were just two of the hundreds of vacationing groups left without ways home after Irma ripped through the region, leaving wrecked cabanas, powerless resorts and flooded beachfront timeshares in its wake. The Lees finally made it to their Manhattan apartment Monday; the Joaquims are still hunkered down in a Turks and Caicos resort wondering when and how they will be able to make it to a home 1,339 miles away.

“We’re definitely hanging in there but every day it’s getting a little harder,” Annie Joaquim said in a video call with News 4. “And the fact that we don’t have eyes on a day when we may be getting out of here is making it harder.”

Joaquim, her husband, two young children and her in-laws have been stuck at the Beaches Turks & Caicos resort since Sept. 7, when Irma skirted the archipelago, blasting the low-lying islands with powerful winds, an eroding storm surge and driving downpours. When the storm passed, the resort was left in ruins; four days later, it’s still closed to visitors.

But she said the family wasn’t totally unaware of the storm when they left for their trip. In fact, the first person who greeted them in the island nation told them to go home.

“We got to customs in Turks and Caicos, and the lady was like ‘you’re crazy, turn around go home!’" she said.

The mother said that after the storm, the restaurants where they would have normally eaten were closed and that they had to climb over downed trees and debris just to get around. Electricity and water are still both spotty, and they don’t have the comfort of air conditioning or clean clothes.

“We’re dripping in sweat all day and all night,” she said. “It makes it hard for the kids to sleep, especially because they don’t really understand what’s going on."

But there are silver linings. None of the Joaquims were hurt in the storm. Resort workers are serving food to the Joaquims and nearly 600 other guests stuck at the resort. And flights will begin shuttling guests back to the United States on Wednesday, so they are hoping to make it back from their extended vacation sooner than later.

“We could be in trouble here,” she said. “We want to get out.”

Michelle and John Lee, meanwhile, were vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands with their two young boys when the then-category 5 storm hit the island. They said they put a mattress up against their window, in case debris came crashing through.

After the storm, they spend several days wondering how they would get home. Then, on Thursday, their hotel began running shuttles to nearby Puerto Rico. The family made the 2 1/2-hour trip.

But there was another hitch: they couldn’t catch a flight back to New York. Initially, they thought they couldn’t make a flight until Thursday, but a last-minute cancellation helped them book a trip home.

Now, the family is just happy to be back in their Chelsea apartment.

“Hearing the hurricane go through, I am just so happy we are alive and home,” said Michelle Lee.

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