A FAMILY who moved from Chester to the United States earlier this summer were forced to flee their home as Hurricane Irene tore across the East Coast.
Patty and Tony McHugh were told to evacuate their house on Long Beach Island, off the south coast of New Jersey, as the 600-mile wide storm approached on Friday.
The couple had returned to the States in July after four years in Chester, where Tony worked as a chemical plant site manager in Ellesmere Port and sons Ethan, seven, and Connor, five, attended Mickle Trafford Village School.
“It’s funny, when we were coming back to the States, I would always say that the only thing I really missed was the sunshine and that New Jersey was a great place because, although we could have cold, snowy rivers, we didn’t have tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes,” said Patty.
The family had been following the hurricane’s progress for several days.
“By midweek we were getting very nervous for what it would mean for us on a barrier island on the coast,” said Patty.
“Storms in the 30s or 40s devastated the island, taking entire homes out, even splitting the island in some spots where the water from the bay met the ocean.”
Before the family left, Tony boarded the house’s windows and doors and shifted as many belongings as possible to the first floor.
“Our house is about three feet above the ground, but if there was something called a storm surge – which they were predicting could be eight to 10 feet – our house could have several feet of water in it,” said Patty.
“We prayed that the big maple trees we have behind the house would not blow over and crush our house.”
The family took shelter in Patty’s parents’ house in Tuckerton, on mainland New Jersey.
“Then we waited and waited. This was really in hindsight the worst part. It seemed like forever,” said Patty.
Tuckerton escaped the brunt of the hurricane’s force on Saturday night, although wind speeds reached 70mph.
“The kids were amazingly unphased by the whole thing – they were happy to be at Grandma’s playing video games and watching TV and really just wondering what all the fuss was about.”
On Sunday morning, the family heard the hurricane had hit Long Beach Island as predicted. Tony and Patty were allowed to return that afternoon.
“There was quite a bit of debris on the road and the beaches were beat up horribly. The dune fences were torn up and it looks like a couple of feet were gouged out of the beaches.”
Although the family’s house was not seriously damaged, Patty’s siblings were less fortunate.
“My sisters and brothers all live up north and all their basements flooded and they lost power – my sister for several days,” she said.
Hurricane Irene reached speeds of 120mph on its course from the Caribbean to Canada, killing more than 40 people and causing billions of dollars of damage.
“One thing I can say about all this is that it is amazing how people do pull together in a time of crisis,” added Patty.
“Everybody was helping to prepare for the hurricane and on Facebook everyone was keeping in touch and watching to know how everyone was doing. It was a really wonderful thing and shows the humanity in everybody.”