POOLER, GA (WTOC) - A dream vacation to celebrate an anniversary became a nightmare for a Pooler couple as the Caribbean paradise they traveled to got battered by Hurricane Irma.
That couple - now safe and sound at home - is sharing their terrifying experience with us - from riding out a Category 5 storm, to finally getting on a plane home.
The Berrios family had saved for a long time to take the trip to the tiny island country of Sint Maarten, and were in constant contact with the airline and travel website they booked with until the day they left - Sept. 2. At that point, Irma's impact on the island wouldn't be felt for another three days. While the hurricane's path wasn't certain, losing most, if not all of the money they spent on plane tickets was, so the Berrios' went ahead to St. Maarten. Dawn Berrios says after a day-and-a-half, sightseeing was replaced by storm preparation since they knew that wouldn't be able to get off the island without paying thousands of dollars for airfare.
"It didn't hit us until we started seeing a lot of the locals boarding up, because when we were traveling Sunday, we didn't see any of that. People were out and about, people were enjoying the weather. I mean, it was gorgeous; it was beautiful," said Dawn Berrios. "My husband noticed the seam from the roof separating from the wall. The roof was literally coming up and going back down. So when I knew Irma was coming, I knew that everything we just saw on Sunday was going to be wiped off. I just to myself said, 'I just hope we survive this."
[INTERVIEW: Watch the full interview with Dawn Berrios below]
By Tuesday, Sept. 6, the outer bands of a Cat 5 storm were hitting their resort. Berrios described what Hurricane Irma sounded like as she and her husband took shelter inside their villa.
"The entire, like the walls, the floor, everything was shaking. It's a feeling that I've never felt before in my entire life. I literally thought that the floor was just going to crumble below us," she said.
Berrios says after taking shelter with fellow vacationers on a lower level, they were able to run to a more secure building to ride out the rest of the storm. When Irma passed, the focus shifted to getting home and staying safe while waiting amidst looting and violence.
"It wasn't until Friday afternoon when we got a report that the violence was on the Dutch side," Berrios said.
The Berrios' did get a flight out after a week on the island and are now turning their attention to a fundraising effort online to help those still hoping to one day call the island home again. If you're interested in helping the cause, click here.