Irma strands Meriden residents, employees on Caribbean island

Irma strands Meriden residents, employees on Caribbean island


The power cut out, winds roared and buildings shook Thursday night on the Turks and Caicos Islands as Hurricane Irma, then a Category 5 storm, unleashed its devastation while several Meriden residents hunkered down in one of the island’s resorts.

“It sounded like a freight train,” said South Meriden resident Phil Massicotte. “The wind, I’d never heard anything like it. It was a like a monster outside the door trying to get in.”

Turks and Caicos is north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and east of Cuba.

Massicotte, who chairs the city’s Aviation Commission, is one of a half-dozen local residents and municipal employees stranded on the island, which shut down airports and left a trail of destruction through the Caribbean to Florida. Of the about 35 Americans stuck on the island, six have ties to Meriden, Massicotte said, including city tax assessor Deborah Zunda and parking department employee Denise Keating.

Massicotte and his wife flew to the islands on Sept. 1 to spend the week at Ocean Club East. They were scheduled to return Friday. Flights off the island were booked in the days leading up to the storm, which arrived Thursday night.

With no other choice, Massicotte and his wife, Angela, waited out the storm at the resort. They soon lost power, and the shutters on the storm windows thrashed violently as loud banging noises could be heard outside.

“The whole building seemed to shake.” Massicotte said. “We were terrified. We thought that was it.”

During the storm, Zunda took refuge in a bathroom in the resort, said deputy tax assessor Mike Mordarski.

“That’s where they told them to be,” Mordarski said.

The storm didn’t begin to let up until just before 3 a.m. Friday, Massicotte said, and the full scale of the damage was only apparent after they left the resort. Throughout the island, palm trees had snapped and other trees were stripped of leaves.

“It’s not the island paradise that it was before the hurricane,” Massicotte said. “Everyone here is trying to get through it.”

Massicotte and his wife are relying on cash to buy food and water, surviving mostly on tuna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Nonperishable food items have been scarce. The island is still without power. Massicote said that if he is unable to fly out by the end of the week, he is worried he might be further delayed if Hurricane Jose crosses their path.

“Our biggest concern is to get flights down here so we can beat Jose,” Massicotte said.

Massicotte said the U.S. consulate was not responsive to requests for aid and the family has reached out to U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal for a flight out.

“It’s pretty bad down here. We feel like we’ve been forgotten,” Massicotte said.

Massicotte’s daughter, Kalee Doll of North Haven, has been desperately trying to get her parents home safely.

“We’ve been trying everything,” Doll said. “We’re all really worried.”

As the Massicottes wait to escape, others in the community are on standby to help assist in the storm’s aftermath, including Meriden Fire Lt. Paul Torres, who was given orders to prepare for deployment if necessary by the Connecticut National Guard.

Maj. Mike Petersen, a Connecticut National Guard spokesman, said 31 guardsmen were been deployed in two massive Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters to support relief efforts in the area. Eight of them returned Monday morning.

While Torres has not been deployed yet, Petersen noted that missions are coming in “rapid fire.”

“We are ready to support, if necessary, with people like Torres,” Petersen said. “Right now, the scope of Hurricane Irma’s damage is widespread but still to be determined what the final outcome will be. Our guardsmen are on standby for a number of different missions but obviously already transportation of personnel and equipment are definite potential.”

Meriden Fire Chief Ken Morgan hoped Torres can be of use to those impacted by the disaster.

“It’s comforting to think we have the expertise that could do that,” Morgan said. “Certainly we wish him well when he goes down there and a safe trip and we hope it doesn’t take him long to deal with the situation and that we get him back.” 
Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ


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