The sobs started as soon as Melody Arredondo began hugging her mother at the Tri-Cities Airport.
Melody’s journey from hurricane-ravaged Sint Maarten to Pasco was neither easy nor quick, but she was grateful to be back in the Tri-Cities a week after Hurricane Irma destroyed her home.
“It’s amazing,” she said, describing her mother’s hug.
Melody and her husband Hector brought their two children, Elijah and Eliana, to the small Dutch country in the Caribbean about eight months ago.
Melody, who lived in Richland, and Hector, from Pasco, met while working at JC Penny in Columbia Center mall.
After high school, they went to Washington State University in Pullman and then American University of the Caribbean, where Hector studied medicine.
The couple had no reason to fear moving to the island, which is about 190 miles east of Puerto Rico, said Melody’s mother, Christina Camp. A hurricane hadn’t touched the island for more than 20 years.
Even in the hours before Irma, people were telling Melody the bulk of the storm would miss the island.
“Everyone was saying it was going to go north of us,” she said. “We were told to bring a change of clothes ... to the shelter. ... No one knew what was going to happen.”
She remembered cleaning the home they rented the day before the storm landed. They expected to be able to return, so they left a bunch of food at their home and headed to a three-story building on campus designed to be a hurricane shelter.
We were told to bring a change of clothes ... to the shelter. ... No one knew what was going to happen.
They weren’t prepared.
At one point a drop in pressure woke all of the babies.
When Melody went to the common area, most of the people were at a wall of windows. The outside was completely obscured by the rain.
“The ground was rumbling,” she said. “(The building) started leaking after that, and we started getting nervous because they had to use vacuums to vacuum the water out of the building.”
Melody and her parents talked until 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. Then Irma stripped away their ability to communicate.
Her parents waited and worried until they heard from Melody on Thursday.
While Melody, Hector and their two children weathered the storm, Irma crippled the water plant, leaving them to rely on the small amount of food and water they brought.
Hector ventured outside while Melody waited with their children. He shot video of the damage to their home.
“You could see through the window the roof was gone, but he couldn’t get the door open,” she said. “Our furniture was all messed up.”
The hurricane devastated the rest of the island. Homes and businesses were flattened, cars were rammed into each other, docks ruined and boats sent adrift or to the bottom of the ocean.
Little was left of the community the family enjoyed during the past eight months.
The ground was rumbling. It started leaking after that, and we started getting nervous because they had to use vacuums to vacuum the water out of the building.
Melody and the children were airlifted to Puerto Rico carrying a pillowcase filled with their belongings, Camp said. The American Red Cross provided them with a change of clothes and a stuffed animal.
Hector followed the next day, and the university flew them to Chicago while administrators tried to sort out where classes could resume.
While they waited to figure out what’s next, Camp wanted to give her daughter and her grandchildren a chance to recover. Camp’s employer, Tri-City Construction Council, paid for them to fly back to the Tri-Cities.
The couple wants to continue Hector’s education, depending on where the new school is located.
A YouCaring account has been organized by Melody’s sister at bit.ly/ArredondoFamily.