NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Earlier this week, CBS2 introduced a couple that was trapped on St. Maarten during Hurricane Irma.
They spent days with no electricity, no protection, and no way home. But now, they are crediting an unexpected hero with their survival.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman sat down with that hero Thursday.
Once the storm passed, 300 hotel guests and employees had to clear debris, ration their food, and figure out how to contact the outside world.
Tensions were high, and people were panicked. It took a strong leader to get them through.
The Category 5 hurricane blasted through St. Maarten with such an anger that the picturesque island was stripped down to its shell. Among splintered resorts, hundreds of tourists were left waiting to be rescued – faced with new dangers each day.
“People with machetes; people with long sticks; pipes,” said Scott Imbrosciano.
“If we hadn’t had such great leaders already at the hotel, it could’ve been a different story,” added his girlfriend, Lauren Stallworth.
That leader, who kept everyone calm during the storm, was the resort’s entertainment director.
“My job normally is to keep morale up and entertain people and keep them happy,” said entertainment director and former cruise ship director, who goes by the name Shep.
Shep said he had only been on the island for one year and had not been in a hurricane before.
“I’ve worked on ships and experienced bad weather on ships, but you can drive away from bad weather on ships,” he said.
After 12 hours in a conference room that started as an orderly carpeted space with patio furniture stacked up for use, and ended as a mangled wreck that looked part of a building in mid-demolition following the hurricane, Shep eventually led the way outside.
“I don’t think anything could prepare you for what we saw when you got outside. It’s as close, I imagine, as to what it looks like when an atomic bomb has gone off,” Shep said.
There was no telling how long they would be on the island, so it had to be livable.
“Secure the perimeter, and make sure that the buildings were and areas we inhabited were safe,” he said.
Shep delegated jobs, kept track of the resources and held daily briefings for their little community.
“I was scared, you know, I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t. I was really scared, and actually at one point, I thought: ‘This is it. This is where I’m going to… you know?” he said. “But we weren’t going to go down without a fight, and that’s what it was. We were fighting it.”
As the week went on, rescue planes could start bringing people home. But flights were sporadic with limited seats. Shep had to tell some people they could not board.
“It’s very hard information to deliver,” he said. “You create a situation where maybe a partner has to say goodbye.”
But he stayed at the resort until every guest checked out. When he finally flew out Tuesday, he was already thinking how to help locals left behind.
“Everyone through been through what we’ve been through is suffering post-traumatic stress,” he said. “We still need to do whatever we can to help the island.”
Shep said his father was a firefighter, his mother was a nurse, and he was just trying to do what they would have done. And after he spends some time with his parents in England, he plans to fly right back down to St. Maarten and help rebuild.
For information on relief efforts for St. Maarten, click here.