Atlanta resident Alex Cuffie tried to describe riding out Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands: "Imagine probably the severest thunderstorm you can think of in Atlanta -- just say that's constant for 12 hours."
Cuffie is sharing hotel accommodations with family and friends in the British Virgin Islands as the monstrous category 5 storm is bearing down on him.
He was on a yachting excursion with 12 people this week when the chartering company brought them back to port and set them up in a hotel.
"Currently (with) the storm, we are experiencing high winds," Cuffie told 11Alive's Joe Henke late Wednesday morning. " It probably started around 2:30 in the morning. It has continued to get worse over the course of the morning. Last time I checked the eye of the storm was about 60 minutes away from when we start feeling those effects. It is getting pretty hairy.”
He says people are very nervous about what all is going on, but since they are all holed up together, he feels they are going to be all right.
Hurricane Irma is pushing toward the British and US Virgin Islands as a catastrophic category 5 storm with sustained winds topping 185 mph and gusts of over 200 mph.
Initially, Cuffie and his group were supposed to return to Atlanta on Saturday, but the storm changed all of that.
"We tried to change our flights to Tuesday morning, but then customs closed before we could get out. So we ended up getting stuck here," he said. "When we had a briefing yesterday, I counted 30-to-40 people, and they were set up in the same accommodations that we were set up in."
It just doesn't compare to a storm in Atlanta.
"Imagine the severest thunderstorm that you can think of in Atlanta, just say that is constant for 12 hours," he said. "From my vantage point, it has pretty much just been high winds. You have broken trees, there is some stuff on the docks that is broken. I expect once the eye -- the winds from the eye -- arrive, that is going to substantially increase."
Cuffie says that despite the severity of the storm they are safe.
"We are good. I got a little nervous a bit. But I have to stay strong for the group. I understand the physics behind this building being an engineer. I feel safer in this building than I would in a structure back home, because it is built of concrete," he said. “We have been saying our prayers, thanking the lord. Just making sure that you know he is going to get us through this safe and that is all we can do at this point.”
As to when he's going to be able to come home? That's a difficult question to answer.
"That is the million dollar question. Because we have been told they had a pretty bad rain storm here a few weeks ago and that took out the airport for a day or two. Our original flights back to Atlanta or back to the U.S. were out of San Juan on Saturday. I think customs is supposed to open back up Thursday. Hopefully the airport and the roads are good to go and we will be able to get back on a flight to San Juan, but then we don’t know how bad San Juan is going to get hit after us," Cuffie said.
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