As the roof of their cottage flapped in the wind, Hannah and Derek Humberson desperately tried to combat the rising water — using Tupperware to scoop it into their shower drain. Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria bore down on the Caribbean, leaving a path of devastation.
Hannah, formerly Hannah Pelzel of Pilot Point, and Derek, a native of Aubrey, moved to the small island of Dominica less than a month before the category 5 hurricane hit so she could attend medical school there.
“The island itself was gorgeous,” Hannah said. “It’s a third world country, so things are different – like we had to get our electricity at the local grocery store and put it on a meter – but we still had a lot of beautiful things to see.”
The pair didn’t realize that their lives would soon be turned upside down.
Hurricane Maria brought winds of 160 miles per hour as it made its way through the Caribbean striking the small country of Dominica first before eventually making its way to Puerto Rico. In Dominica, officials said at least 27 people were dead and 50 were missing.
Hannah and Derek, both 23, married in July and moved to Portsmouth, Dominica, on Aug. 23. Hannah attended medical school at Ross University School of Medicine with the hopes of one day being a pediatrician. A week before the storm hit, locals were gearing up for a tropical storm so no one was yet worried.
“We didn’t think we would have to evacuate,” Hannah said. “On Sunday (Sept. 17) we got an e-mail (from the school) saying that it’s a category 2 hurricane. But by Sunday night, we got another e-mail saying it was a category 3 so the school would be closed Monday and probably Tuesday.”
“My first exam was that Monday and it was canceled,” she added. “I was thinking it was no big deal, it was just a category 3. Monday it was raining, but it’s wasn’t bad weather really.” However, as the night grew longer, Hannah received another e-mail from her school informing the students that the storm would be a category 4. The duo settled into their home ready to ride out a category 4 storm. Hannah Facetimed her parents letting them know they were expecting to lose power, but everything would be fine.
As she was talking with her father around 7:30 p.m., the power went out, and an eerie feeling settled over the house.
“Apparently there was another e-mail sent out that we didn’t get because we didn’t have power, saying it was a category 5,” she said. Weathering the storm At 10 p.m. the wind whipped across the island, and the metal roof of their cottage was began to lift up and slam back down into the structure. “It was so loud that it like sent me and Hannah to the ground and shook the whole entire house and we didn’t know what to do,” Derek said. “Then it started leaking out of everywhere.” Water poured out of light sockets, the edges of the roof and around windows into the small home.
Hannah and Derek both gathered up their passports, and electronics, and put them into a backpack so they would be ready to relocate after the storm died down.
For the next seven hours, the young couple, scooped water from their floor and dumped it into their shower because water was still draining there. “The wind was so loud we had to yell at each other to communicate,” Derek said. “I just kept wishing it would be over. ”
“I kept thinking the roof was going to collapse, and I was just waiting for it to happen,” Hannah added. “The pressure inside our house was building so much that our ears were popping.”
By 6 a.m. Tuesday, the storm had died down, and one of Hannah’s professors, who was their neighbor, came to make sure the couple was OK. They were, and when they stepped outside they couldn’t believe the devastation Maria had caused.
Trees were wiped off the island, telephone poles were snapped in half, sheet metal covered the streets, rooftops ripped off homes and where once a path of lush greenery blocked the view of the ocean from their cottage, the ocean was now completely visible.
Hannah and Derek lived at the university for the next eight days where they were able to get food and clean water. The cottage they called home for the last month was no longer an option because the roof continually leaked when it rained – which it did every day. The medical students at the university were also able to help Derek’s leg after dirty water got inside a cut causing a rash to cover his leg.
After eight days, an older cruise ship, captained by Ukrainians took the students to St. Lucia. From there Hannah and Derek flew to Miami and then to DFW.
All and all, the pair was displaced for 10 days. “It’s not bad for us,” she said. “Some of my classmates went back to Puerto Rico only to find more devastation.”
In Texas While Hannah waits for her university to find another school she can attend, she and Derek are staying in Aubrey with Derek’s family.
“We’ve been enjoying the Tex- Mex,” she said. Derek found a job in Frisco at LA Fitness where he plans to work as a personal trainer and sit out the next medical school adventure.
While the students have not yet been relocated, most hope that another island isn’t on the table this hurricane season.
Looking back, the pair learned from their experience, and found that even as newlyweds, they make a great team. “We learned about crisis management and know we can survive a category 5 hurricane,” Derek said. “And we’re still married.”