By Kate Quesada
When Rick and Debbie Ploor and their family set off for their vacation in St. Thomas in early September, they had no idea the adventure that awaited them and how it would change their perspective on life.
The couple was vacationing with family and friends in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands when Hurricane Irma hit as a category five storm causing immense destruction, which trapped them on the island for six days until they were rescued by a Norwegian Line cruise ship. In an effort to help the citizens who lost everything in the storm, many who helped the Ploors while they were there, the Brandon couple have set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money to send to the island.
The Ploors, who rented a home in Mahogany Run, a golf course community in the mountainous region of the island, traveled with their adult daughters and four friends to celebrate Rick doing well in his fight with cancer. With little communication during their vacation, by the time they realized the hurricane was headed their way, there were no flights to get them off the 32-sq.-mile island. After securing the four-year-old-house and collecting supplies, they rode out the worst parts of the hurricane in a safe bedroom, but were amazed to see the destruction after the storm passed.
“It was like a bomb went off,” said Debbie, who explained that she had been told the eye of the storm passed a mile from where they were and the area clocked winds of 225 miles per hour and sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. “The older homes around us were just destroyed with windows blown out and walls and roofs gone. The lush, green foliage and vegetation that made the area so beautiful before was also completely gone. It was like everything had disintegrated.”
Due to the destruction on the island, there were no flights leaving the airport, no power, very little food and gas and it was very hard to communicate with anyone. There was also a curfew in effect, so residents and vacationers were only allowed to leave their homes between 12 Noon and 5 p.m.
“It was so hard to feel so trapped and helpless,” said Debbie, who explained that there were only a few places in the area where cell phones worked at all and even these calls were dropped very frequently. During this time, they were also worried about the track of Irma over Florida and how it may impact their Brandon home.
However, despite many St. Thomas residents losing everything, people all over the island came together and helped themselves and each other. Debbie is specifically thankful to the property manager of the house where they stayed, a lady named Candice, whose home was completely destroyed in the storm, but still showed up to help the Ploors secure their house and helped them make a plan to get off the island.
Six days after the storm passed, the Ploors and their friends were able to get on a cruise ship sent specifically to rescue people from St. Thomas. They made the two and one half day trip on the Norwegian Star from the island to Miami and were beyond relieved to finally make it back home nine days after the storm hit.
Despite being relieved to be in Florida, the Ploors could not forget about the people that helped them and how hard it will be for them to rebuild their lives, especially as they had been told it could be up to a year before the island gets power restored. So they decided to set up a Go Fund Me page and plan to send any money they are able to get donated to Candice and the others who they met during their stay on the island.
“It was so hard to leave behind the wonderful people who treated us so amazingly,” said Debbie. “We can’t stop thinking about them and how much help they will need rebuilding their lives. We really want to make sure they are not forgotten.”
To help the Ploors raise money for the people of St. Thomas, visit their Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/GivingbacktoStThomas.