Hurricane Irma claimed just about everything Cheryl and Leonard Forbes owned when it slammed across Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands this past month.
It could have been worse.
“If we had stayed in our bedroom we would have been killed because a huge piece of sheetrock fell right across our bed, so, at least, that helped us to put things into perspective,” said Cheryl.
Cheryl, 69, spent 21 years in Rankin Inlet as a teacher and elementary school principal, as well as seven years in Naujaat, while Leonard worked about 17 years at the Northern store in Rankin and spent one term on hamlet council.
The couple left Rankin in 2005 to live in Providenciales.
Cheryl said Hurricane Irma was the worst storm ever.
She said about 100 of the 120 houses in their little area sustained damage, but she and Leonard got it the worst with two-thirds of their roof being blown off.
“Fortunately, we had one little dry area in my sewing room we could stay in, but that was certainly the longest six hours of my life,” said Cheryl.
“The wind sounded like a freight train and once the roof went, it sounded like the hurricane was inside the house, and we could hear things blowing off the walls, TVs falling and our cupboards breaking.
Cheryl and Leonard managed to fall asleep when the storm began to calm down, but they awoke a few hours later to a neighbour knocking on their window to see if they were still alive.
When they emerged, they were greeted by the sight of about six inches of sludge all over the floor from the sheetrock and insulation.
“It was just a terrible experience,” said Cheryl.
“Even after it had calmed down, pieces of our roof kept banging, so we didn’t know if they were all going to fall, as well.”
The storm toppled more than 500 utility poles on their island, Cheryl said. They were without power for more than a month,
Cheryl and Leonard stayed with one friend for two nights, and then were offered a little one-room apartment to stay in by another friend who was in Ireland at the time.
The couple stayed at the apartment for five nights, but, without power, sleep didn’t come easily, with voracious mosquito attacks and with temperatures reaching 90 to 100 every night.
But, there was a silver lining in the clouds for Cheryl and Leonard, and it came from the folks in Rankin Inlet.
Cheryl said she was shocked to find out that Sally Kusugak and Kelly Clark-Lindell had arranged a fundraiser for her and Leonard back in Rankin, and Bill Belsey started a gofundme campaign to help them out, as well.
She said the help couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We’ve been gone from Rankin for almost 13 years, and we were just shocked that people still remembered us and were willing to help us like that. This has been a little hard for me, because I always think I should be the one giving, not taking, but I appreciate what everyone did for us so much,” she said.
“Leonard and I are just so grateful for all the help we received.”
The couple are still waiting to hear from their insurance company. Cheryl said the money raised by their Northern friends is going to go a long way for them.
She said tragedies bring out the best and worst of people, and Rankin Inlet represents the best of people.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been on the receiving end of needing help and I don’t like being in this position, but desperate times bring desperate measures,” she said.
“My mom passed away just a week before the hurricane hit, and, with everything that’s happened, I don’t know if I’ve even had time to grieve for her yet. But what I do know is how much Leonard and I appreciate everything that’s been done for us and we thank everyone involved.”