Published On: Tue, Sep 26th, 2017

Post-Hurricane Irma Interview: “Sophia Kelly”

Sophia Kelly - Manager The CliffCUPECOY — Unless you want to be heroic, self-preservation is a natural instinct of the human being in any disastrous situation, but that depends on the area of responsibility of the individual in question. In this case Sophia Kelly, Property Manager of The Cliff, can take the credit for preventing what could have been a calamity the morning Hurricane Irma touched down on St Maarten.

Kelly who is originally from St. Kitts has held that position for the past six years and has been residing here for double that amount years. “This is my home” she started out by saying when she agreed to speak with our reporter a few days after the storm.

Property Manager at The Cliff, Sophia Kelly, recounts her personal experiences during Hurricane Irma

The 8th floor, beach front condo has been a home away from home for almost 120 students attending the American University of the Caribbean, AUC. In the days leading up to the arrival of Irma whose wind speed projections were fluctuating, Kelly and the rest of her management team were already in prep mode.

“From as early as the Tuesday, we boarded up everything possible and to us, we thought we did the best that we could considering the short notice. At the time we had between 100 to 120 persons in the building,” she said.

As a measure of precaution, Kelly was instrumental in getting the occupants to assemble in one spot for an emergency briefing in the lobby. “While there, they were told the location of the safe zones and where to hide if they experienced difficulties.”

According to Kelly, the emergency tips she issued was her way of helping to reduce possible serious injuries of even death. But even she was not prepared for what she saw when she took a chance to survey the damaged to the entire structure at the first light of day.

One injury reported after Irma damaged The Cliff

“After seeing what Irma did in the 71 units, if I did not issue the caution, I am sure they would have had many deaths considering the extensive damage. We were lucky because the only person that had to be treated was a 13 year old was cut by flying glass and had to get 40 stitches in her arm.

People actually came here through friends, they left their homes and came here for protection. Most of them stayed in either of the two the underground parking lot which had adequate parking and was by far the safest place to stay for almost 18 hours,” she added.

Like a captain of a ship, Kelly made sure that everyone in the building was in a safe place before she and her dog found a spot in the basement. Strange enough, her dog responded to her every command, but the adults did not.

“As soon as the eye of the storm passed, some people were already walking out and I had to tell them that the worse was not over, we still had another few hours to go. At that point I had to ensure that everybody was calm and urged them not to try to venture outside the safe zones.”

A quick look at the damages to the interior of the building revealed stairwells that were completely blocked, doors jammed from the inside, ceilings beyond repairs, sliding doors dislodged along with a variety of household items in disarray.

According to Kelly, no one was allowed to remain in their units during the passing of the storm, this was my 6th major storm and I knew what to do so I knew when it was safe to even look outside,” she pointed out.

Realizing that electricity and water was no longer accessible, the occupants were advised to seek shelter at the AUC emergency shelter, which was a short distance away. Next on her agenda was to evaluate, salvage and restore what was possible. That exercise however was not possible until the following day when a backup generator was put in place. “Both of our generators were struck by debris and our air-condition units were not working.”

The first few days after Irma, survival was the key for Kelly, her support staff and the members of the security detail. “We had to cook on coal pots and stones for about four days, now that we have lights we are able to see the damage to the interior. But we can only put back lights into some of the units, we have water to last us for about two months.”

Looking at the long term, Kelly said that the entire building has to be re-engineered from the frame work and she estimates that the restoration will take between two to three years.

The Cliff

Photo caption: Condomium complex The Cliff in Cupecoy, damaged inside and out. Photo by TODAY photo journalist, Milton Pieters.