The DeWeerd family: Ryan and his wife Heather (formerly a Boudreau from Yarmouth County) and their children Eddison and Liberty.
YARMOUTH, N.S. – Hurricane Irma has churned through the Caribbean Islands with devastating, and deadly, winds as it tracks towards Florida. And while far removed, the monster storm has caused anxiety for some people in Yarmouth, N.S. and for others formerly from here.
Heather (Boudreau) DeWeerd, her husband Ryan and their two small children live on the Island of Hispaniola, Dominican Republic. The former Yarmouth resident said in a Sept. 7 interview that Irma didn’t directly hit the area she and her family live in, but there were still anxious moments preparing for the Category 5 storm that has had sustained winds of 280 kilometres (175 miles) per hour, or higher.
“I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous. I tried to keep myself busy and made a to-do list,” DeWeerd said. But whenever she checked Facebook and saw news reports or videos, particularly of what was happening on the Island of St. Martin, her anxiety would spike.
“I would have a moment of fear come over me and then I would just get back to my list and keep going,” she said. “For myself it was kind of a rollercoaster. My husband, he wasn’t afraid. But with two young kids I was a bit concerned – not just going through the storm but what we were going to be left with afterwards and what situation we would be left with.”
Fortunately it didn’t come to that. During the interview DeWeerd said it felt like the storm was past them, although residents were still being told not to completely let their guard down, as there could be other weather to contend with.
“Relatively speaking we dodged a bullet,” she said. “But there are communities that have been devastated. So we know we will have to make a trip out there and see what help we can give them.”
The DeWeerds do missionary work through Every Day Ministries Canada. Among other things, they serve churches on the north coast of the island, providing aid when and where needed.
“They may need help building a church or providing for their community, development work, education work. We’ve had a home construction project that we’ve been working on for the last four years, almost five, trying to rebuild homes that have been deteriorating,” DeWeerd said. “And at times we are involved in relief work.”
In the days leading up to Irma, she said, they spent a lot of time securing and boarding up ministry properties they’re responsible for. Asked if they thought about leaving, DeWeerd said they had friends on the south side of the island extend invitations to take refuge there.
“Our area was under an evacuation order. But because we have our home here and other properties that we’re responsible for, and people that we knew would be looking to us for help should they need it after the storm, we just didn’t feel we could leave when other people didn’t have that option,” she said.
Family and friends from Yarmouth, and elsewhere, were constantly checking in to see how they were doing.
One such friend was Christine Watkins, who, with her husband Gifford, has spent time living in Florida doing missionary work. She’s been keeping track of the storm from Yarmouth and keeping track of family and friends in its path.
“I've been glued to the weather updates,” she said, grateful when she received word that the DeWeerds were okay.
But Watkins has friends and family she was concerned for.
“We're waiting to hear about our friend's daughter who was in St. Martin,” she said. “I did talk to my brother who has decided to stay in Florida for the storm with his wife and five children. We are definitely anxiously waiting for it to pass.
“I did have my son leave (Florida). He is in North Carolina. Hopefully it won't make it up that far north,” she said.
As Irma tore through the Caribbean islands, around a dozen people were killed and thousands were left homeless. About a million people in Puerto Rico were reported to be without power. The Caribbean Island of St. Martin suffered heavy damage. On the Island of Barbuda, there were reports that 90 per cent of the structures and homes were heavily damaged or destroyed.
WATCHING HOME FROM HOME
Normally, Yarmouth resident Leanne Schneider doesn’t pay much attention to hurricanes when they’re still far away. But she’s spent days keeping track of this one. She owns a property in southwest Florida and has been watching to see whether it would be in the hurricane’s path. “I’ve been talking to a neighbour down there. He said yesterday it looked like it was veering off the path of southwest Florida,” she said. “They’re still going to get the wind and the rain and the outer bands of the storm. But as for actual landfall, it doesn’t look like it’s going to hit our place, which is really good.”
But before knowing what direction the hurricane would take, Schneider said it was worrisome to watch the storm get larger and stronger. She worries for those who will be in its path, calling it a feeling of helplessness.
“It’s all in God’s hands,” she said. “You can’t do anything but prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Because this hurricane, or remnants of it, could eventually make its way to this region, Schneider will be preparing for that possibility.
Meanwhile, back at the DeWeerds’ home, the family that has dedicated their lives to helping others will do whatever is needed to help those not as lucky as they’ve been with this hurricane.
“We are thankful that Irma did not land here. It would have been catastrophic and lives would have been lost,” said Heather DeWeerd. “We’re totally thankful that the storm didn’t hit us the way it was expected to. But nonetheless, there are some communities that have been flooded and some communities where homes have been literally flattened. There is still a cleanup to happen and still some relief efforts to be done.”