Piedmont family forced to ride out Hurricane Irma in St. Maarten

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It started as the vacation of a lifetime, but quickly morphed into a nightmare a Greensboro couple will never forget.

Phyllis and Alex Dandison spent a few beautiful days in St. Maarten, but as Hurricane Irma approached, the two realized they needed to cut their time short in the Caribbean and get back to the United States. The only problem: no flights were leaving the island until after the storm.

"We had nowhere to go, we just had to ride it out and we're very lucky," Phyllis recalled. "I'm sure the prayers are what kept us alive."

They hunkered down in their condo bathroom with three friends who were vacationing with them. Alex said the five hours they endured with Irma were the longest of his life.

"The eye came right over us, and the building was shaking like a vibrating chair for a long time, from about five in the morning to about 10 in the morning," Alex said.

When the storm passed, they emerged from their shelter to find their surroundings ripped to shreds. The roof was torn off their condo, cars were flipped and on fire and the airport was completely out of commission. Stranded for days, the Dandisons had no access to communication and survived off limited food, water and power. They had no idea when they would be rescued, until they heard a knock on their door.

"They said, 'Are you American citizens?' and we said, 'Yes,' and they said, 'They're evacuating now, go up to the third floor,'" Alex said.

The pair left all their luggage and climbed into a military plane, a C-130, and rode to San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, they caught a Delta flight to Atlanta then rented a car to drive straight home to Greensboro.

"I got home and I'm fine now," Alex said. "It was misery for four days and it was very scary for several hours, but now it's over and we're safe and at home and grateful, grateful for all the prayers we got."

The Dandisons wanted to note how thankful they are for their rescuers, the Kentucky National Guard and the American Red Cross. They also want people to remember those still stuck in the midst of the chaos, in the United States and beyond.