Family That Fled St. John After Irma Now Trapped in Puerto Rico During Hurricane Maria
“We’re very stressed. My husband said we’re all going to need counseling when this is over,” Laurel Brannick told the Today show of her family’s ordeal on Wednesday. “We’re at the Sheraton [hotel] in San Juan. We’re just like refugees or vagabonds. The hotel is boarded up. They boarded up the windows. So, we can’t see outside.”
Brannick, along with her 75-year-old mother, Gail Brannick, her husband, Marc Bigrigg, and their 11-year-old son Dennis, was evacuated from St. John on a ferry over the weekend after Hurricane Irma ravaged the island, leaving her home “unlivable,” her niece, Kaitlin Meier, tells PEOPLE.
Meier says that the roof of Brannick’s home was torn off and, when she fled to Puerto Rico, “she did not expect another storm of this magnitude,” says Meier. “She’s very unlucky.”
Brannick told Today that she has lived in St. John for 25 years, noting that her son’s school had been damaged in the storm.
“A lot of people I know had to close up businesses,” she said. “The island is not going to be up and running for quite awhile. St. John is going to be rebuilding for a year or two.”
She added that everyone in the hotel had been moved to a banquet area as the storm set in.
Meier says she and her mother, Denise, have kept in close contact with Brannick, but they hadn’t heard from the family since Hurricane Maria touched down in Puerto Rico on Wednesday with winds of 155 mph. (The storm killed seven people on the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica, CNN reports.)
“We’re just really hoping for the best … [the storm is] over them, basically, right now,” Meier says. “At this moment, we’re just hoping that they’re okay.”
Officials with the National Hurricane Center warned Puerto Rico residents on Tuesday, describing Maria in an advisory as an “extremely dangerous major hurricane,” officials said at the time. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
Brannick, who works for the National Park Service, told Today that she was hoping to go back to St. John in the next six months, noting that she and her family have built a life there. In the meantime, Meier tells PEOPLE that other plans have been put in place.
“Marc is going back [to St. John to] work construction there. My cousin Dennis, he is planning to come live with us,” Meier says. “My grandma was a teacher in New York City for 35 years so I think the plan is that she’s going to come here with him and she’s going to home school him. So he won’t be with [Brannick] for at least a few months, unfortunately.”
Hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding in Texas and Hurricane Irma followed close behind, wreaking havoc on several Caribbean nations and Florida.
Hurricane Irma left 38 people dead in the Caribbean and devastated the U.S. territories St. John and St. Thomas.