31ºF

Jonathan Falwell, wife safe after being caught in St. Martin during hurricane

Falwell is flying back to the island to learn what he can do to help

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Pastor Jonathan Falwell was back in Lynchburg Sunday after surviving Hurricane Irma.

He and his wife were on the island of St. Martin when the storm hit and barely made it out alive. Now, he's planning to go back to help the island rebuild.

Falwell was on the island to celebrate his 25th anniversary with his wife. He said the hurricane was something he never expected, but was glad his hotel was prepared for.

"The hotel they, out of their wisdom, felt we all needed to get down into the ballroom. It's like a conference room down at the bottom of the hotel as a shelter," Falwell said.

Falwell said about 300 people thought that conference room was where they would spend the night, until the storm hit.

"About 5 o'clock in the morning, they came in and they woke us up and told us that we needed to all move into the one room, and so we all picked up our stuff and we moved over into one smaller room; now we were all gathered and huddled in one place. And about 15 minutes later, that room that we had been in completely exploded," Falwell said.

Falwell said the storm took hours to pass, but the destruction wasn't clear until he stepped outside.

"It was at that point when we came outside that we had seen the absolute devastation that had taken place on that island," said Falwell.

Falwell said people are still being evacuated, but it isn't enough.

"We've got to remember, there's 78,000 people that live on that island whose homes are gone, who've lost everything. What are they going to need?" Falwell said.

Falwell and the organization Samaritan's Purse are headed back to St. Martin Sunday. He says he'll be there until Monday evening.

"This is a first step of a very long journey of trying to figure out what needs to be done, and we'll be bringing more people out as well," Falwell said.

Falwell said he plans to work through Thomas Road Baptist Church to organize mission trips to the several islands affected by the storm, and any areas in Florida that may see destruction throughout the day Sunday and into Monday.