Two St. George women experience horror of Irma firsthand

Local News

ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Two women from St. George are stuck in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the area where they were staying. They survived the storm, but part of the Red Cross shelter they were in collapsed and the airport has been closed.

Michelle Willard,45, and her cousin LoyAnn McLendon, 62, were in Saint Thomas when the storm appeared and was declared a category 3 hurricane. By Tuesday it had grown to a category 5 hurricane, and the two were told to go inland to a shelter.

Her husband Kimball Willard is back in St. George with their family and has been able to briefly text and talk with his wife when service has been available. Kimball said he surprised nothing worse happened to her.

“She really doesn’t know how she’s alive at this point other than just the grace of God,” said Kimball.

Kimball said the two woman went to a Red Cross shelter at an elementary school. Once the storm started to hit the area part of the roof collapsed. Late Thursday night FEMA determined it to be uninhabitable.

“The elementary school started taking quite a bit of damage and they initially shuttled all the people there, about 60 people, into a small room in the back of the elementary to ride it out,” said Kimball.

Michelle is a nurse, and Kimball said once the storm passed she jumped into action to help those in the area. Because her phone still worked, she was also helping to coordinate efforts with the Red Cross.

Kimball said the effort was also good for his wife as well.

“When you’re in a situation like that if you can focus on something other than the terrible nature of what’s going on it keeps you calm,” said Kimball. “It keeps you in control.”

Kimball was trying to get his wife out on an earlier flight, but they were canceled once the storms neared. He hopes to have her flying back to New York by Saturday. One problem is the tower at the airport has been damaged and it’s unclear if they will be allowed to take off.

Michelle’s family said they’re just glad to know she’s OK. Her son Jeremy said he couldn’t be more proud of his mom.

“I knew my mom was amazing, but to go through one of the largest hurricanes ever and survive it and to not just think of herself,” said Jeremy. “I mean it’s really inspiring.”

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