Hello, my name is Eric Gooch and I just spent a harrowing 5 days on the island of St. Thomas during and after hurricane Irma. During this time, I was with my lifelong friend and college roommate, Matt Sanders. I can't possibly describe in words the fear running through our minds as the hurricane began to destroy the paradise that so many people have called home or somehow enjoyed over the years. Sustained winds of 180+ mph and gusts of 220 mph caused damage that is unimaginable unless you were there to experience it first hand. We had wooden 2x4's being shot through the roof at us at over 100 mph, we watched glass from the shattered windows fly through the air like millions of raindrops, and we watched first hand as our home, our island, and our livelihood was ripped away. The hurricane quickly filled the house with water through the roof holes and portions that were ripped off as well as the broken windows. The tornado's within the hurricane continued to rip apart the 12 inch thick concrete steel reinforced walls. The storm was peeling away our protection like layers of an onion. It was making its way to us, slowly but surely. We heard cries of terror from the friends in the unit next to us.
Matt and I dove into the shower that was flooded with 6 inches of hurricane water that had been propelled through the shattered nearbye window as the 220 mph winds whistled through the house. We then had to simultaneously sit in the water with our butts on the floor, legs against the wall and backs against the door that divided us and our 12 friends in the apartment unit next to us. The door couldn't handle the hurricanes pressure (strongest ever recorded) and it would bend in an out as it tried to resist exploding inward on our friends. The resistance we provided prevented the door from rocketing inward at our friends or outward towards us.
The freight train like noise of the hurricane slowly subsided after a few hours of watching as the house and surroundings get ripped away into the storms fury. Our tensions began to diminish.
Once we were able to leave what was left of our shelter, the fear turned into complete shock. It was our own personal apocalypse. The house next door had been completely demolished, and we had no clue if the tenants were still alive. The roof above our unit was gone, and we still had two friends upstairs who battled the roofless elements under a bed cushion. Needless to say, the days to follow were all about helping others, and attempting to mentally digest the experience we went through.
I am now reaching out to all those who I know and those I do not know to help with the relief efforts of my best friends business, house and livelihood. His efforts will also be utilized to provide food/water/resources to others on the island. He continues to provide shelter, protection and food/water to 12 people. I too lost all my possessions, but it pales in comparison to the devastation that Matt and his girlfriend Julles are dealing with. We have our lives which is such a blessing, but my dear friends have to start from square one. Matt Sanders may not be related by blood, but he is my brother. It was his home that shielded us from Irma, his home that helped to keep us alive, and his home that is no longer standing. I urge each and every one of you to contribute to the relief efforts to help this wonderful couple start over and rebuild their house, their boat charter business, and their island paradise that is shared by so many wonderful people. I am going back to the island to help with relief in the near future. If monetary contributions can't be made, please feel free to share the video.
With love and appreciation,
- Christen Stryker
- Rob and Amber Willoughby
- Corina & Adrian Bica
- Mathi Willoughby
- Eric Meckler
Organizer and beneficiary
Chagrin Falls, OH