As the height of Hurricane Irma, all Langley’s Kurt Seelig could do was lie flat on the ground with a mattress covering him and hope the wind wouldn’t suck him out into the abyss, as it had the top floor of his building on the island of Saint Martin.
“He was at the bottom of a multiple-storey apartment made of cement and metal. The house fell on them and what was left of the rubble was sucked out,” said Kurt’s mother, Donna, from her Langley home.
She said her son is alive thanks to the quick thinking of a woman named Lydia.
“Lydia literally saved my son’s life. He was determined the bathroom was the safest place to be, in the bathtub, but Lydia knew better. She literally had to grab him by the hair and she threw herself on top of him and a mattress on top of them before the bathroom collapsed,” Kurt’s mom told the Times.
“He would have died right there,” said Donna.
She had been living a parent’s nightmare since the category 5 hurricane, with winds reaching nearly 300 km/h, hit Saint Martin where her son was staying. The death toll is still unknown but the path of destruction Irma left on the small Caribbean island is enormous.
On Sunday evening, Sept. 17, Donna got to hug her son again when he arrived at the Vancouver Airport. It was a reunion filled with tears and joy, as Donna was eager to take Kurt home, along with Lydia and her daughter Madison.
After the storm had passed, Kurt, 18, Lydia and her daughter Madison, 18, spent the next two days dazed and sleeping on wet mattresses in what remained of the apartment building. But with no food or water, they knew they had to move on.
All their supplies had been sucked away by the wind and Hurricane Jose was thought to be bearing down on them.
They left the building and stayed for a time at a friend’s house. When Jose didn’t materialize, the friend told them they had to leave.
“My son said they had to walk over dead bodies to get to the airport. They stood on the tarmac in the hot sun for eight hours,” Donna said.
A French military plane arrived to take them to Guadeloupe.
She said in that time, Canada’s government was nowhere to be found, offering no help and no planes to rescue the Canadians from the devastated island.
“I would get emails from the Canadian government for my family member to meet at the rescue spot or meet at the airport but I have no way of getting in touch with my son to let him know. They had no one on the ground to help them. I can tell you that Kurt said the (other) Canadians felt very abandoned,” said Donna.
“It was the French government that helped them, not the Canadian. I’ve been to my MLA, my MP and I can tell you there was no help offered. The U.S. French, the British, even Venezuela was helping their people. Where was Canada?”
Canada did send a plane to the Dutch side of the island, Donna said.
“I can tell you that they wouldn’t have been able to get to that side of the island to get rescued,” she said.
Kurt, a DW Poppy Secondary grad, had gone to visit his friend Maddie Antoni, who moved from Langley to Saint Martin with her mom four years ago for a quieter, better life, said Donna.
“He and some friends had gone to visit them in spring and he had such a great time, he went there again in July. He was due back two days after Irma hit.”
The hurricane has left the mother and daughter with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, Donna said. They have absolutely nothing to return to.
“Lydia saved my son’s life, so that makes them family.”
Donna was busy getting her son’s room ready for their arrival. She will have them stay for as long as it takes for them to get back on their feet.
“But they really could use our help, our community’s help,” she said.
A friend of Maddie and Lydia has started a GoFundMe page to help the pair when they arrive in Langley.
The only flights between Guadeloupe and Canada are through Air Canada, said Donna, who paid $4,000 to get the trio on a flight on Sunday.
“It’s worth every penny to get my son home,” she said last week.
“Thank goodness I booked when I did, because that was the last seats left for that week.
For Kurt’s part, he is so glad to be home, to take a hot shower and see his cat again.
Donna worries about all the trauma the three have endured and seen.
She worries about what lasting effects it will have on them.
“Kurt did want to emphasize one thing, is that there is hope for Canadians to get out of St. Martin,” said Donna.