'We're lucky to be alive': Retired Canadian couple barely survives Irma
Kayla Goodfield, CTV News Toronto
Published Monday, September 11, 2017 10:04PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:59PM EDT
A retired Canadian couple said they are “lucky to be alive" after their boat broke down while sailing through the Caribbean as Hurricane Irma slammed into St. Maarten last week.
After going to the airport four times in hopes of getting a flight back home, Ken Reynolds and Laurie McCoy safely landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Monday morning by way of Puerto Rico and Houston.
The couple’s retirement plan of sailing through the Caribbean for three years came to an unexpected end half way through amid deadly weather conditions as Hurricane Irma ripped through the island.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto at Pearson International Airport, the couple said this is not how they wanted to come home but nonetheless they are happy to be back.
“I’m just happy to touch the ground after what we’ve seen,” McCoy said. “I never realized the intensity of it. We’re just lucky to be alive and that’s what I’m grateful for right now.”
When the storm was initially supposed to hit St. Maarten Reynolds said he believed stopping there would be okay.
“Usually if they come through there, they’re not too strong,” he said. “We were waiting for a part for our boat otherwise we would’ve left and gotten stuck. We went into a marina because we thought that would be a little more safe but they said it was over a Category 5 and nothing survived… nothing.”
After the couple was rejected from the marina, a Good Samaritan who was at the marina at the time invited them to stay in her home while the hurricane passed through.
“We were lucky because she had a cement house,” Reynolds said. “I was confident. She had big black barn doors over the windows and the big patio door but I thought the patio door was going to bust open because it was moving like a heartbeat, back and forth. It was really bending.”
“She saved our lives I think. We had nowhere to go and there were hotels closing. A lot of people weren’t as lucky.”
McCoy called the woman who brought them in “a saint.”
“She was so calm,” she said. “She had been through four hurricanes herself so she kept us updated on what was going on and what to expect, which helps a lot.”
While staying at the woman’s home the couple could hear the 240 m/hr winds hitting everything outside the cement barriers.
“I’ll never forget the sounds,” McCoy said. “It was just like a train. Your ears pop, you can’t even hear yourself talk it was so loud. The walls shake like an earthquake. (There were) things flying everywhere. It was really hard to watch and you just wanted it to be over but it didn’t end for like 12 hours.”
“(We didn’t) realize how lucky we were to be where we were until we started to drive around the town (after) because everything was gone.”
Reynolds said the Canadian government should have been more transparent in telling Canadians what to do in this crisis.
“It’s been a lifetime experience, just our trip and to survive a hurricane,” he said. “I hate to say it but we found our country isn’t helping at all. We weren’t informed of anything.”
“They should’ve told people to just go to the airport and see what happens, and that’s what we did.”
Responding to criticism of the Canadian government being slow to act during this natural disaster, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government is doing everything in its power to bring citizens to safety.
“We are working very, very hard to bring you home,” Freeland said during a news briefing on Monday. “We are very aware of how frightening, how worrying this situation is, and I am not going to rest until everybody is back and safe.”
About 390 people have been brought back to Canada safely via commercial flights and about 150 people in St. Maarten and 90 in Turks and Caicos are still awaiting their return.
St. Maarten, where Reynolds and McCoy flew home from, saw 70 per cent of homes either damaged or destroyed as a result of the hurricane. As well, the Dutch government said four people died in the storm.
The couple said they are not sure if they will ever go sailing again after enduring that experience.
“It was our retirement dream to live the dream and now it’s been taken away so we’ll just have to carry on,” McCoy said. “We’ll just have to take it one day at a time.”