Grief and relief delivered in one phone call from Tortola to SE DC

We were touched last night by the story of a Washington housekeeper who called our WUSA9 Hurricane help desk beside herself with worry.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - Iris Joaquin is a widowed housekeeper from Guyana living alone in Southeast, D.C. She's separated by 1600 miles of ocean from her large family who are guest workers on the Caribbean island of Tortola, a British territory.

Iris knew the island had taken a near direct hit nearly a week ago. She saw a Facebook post with evidence that her brother Derek may have been killed. But still she'd heard nothing from family members. No calls getting in or out. No emails, texts, or tweets from any of her many brothers and sisters. 

For six days, she has been tortured by worry, but kept on showing up for work at her clients' upscale Bethesda homes.

On Tuesday, as communications lines were restored in Tortola, the call finally came from a sister with emotions that ran from grief to relief.

RELATED: DC woman searching for family after Irma strikes Caribbean

Iris' 55-year-old brother Derek had indeed been killed. But the rest of her five brothers and sisters, and many nieces and nephews had taken refuge in one sister's concrete home. They are alive.

The house was one of the few to survive. The homes of the others are either flattened or unlivable.

"I want to help but I don't know in what way," Iris told WUSA9 reporter Stephanie Ramirez Monday night before hearing from her sister.

Details of her brother Derek's death were particularly heartbreaking. He operated a small bodega-style store and lived in an adjacent apartment. He wanted to weather the storm there to protect his property. Iris said she was told authorities found Derek's body in a 5000-pound shipping container that had been tossed by the wind.  

Apparently, Derek sought shelter in the steel storage box as his building began to come apart. But the container was upended by the hurricane. His body is in a hospital morgue on the island.

Iris's first instinct is to try to go to Tortola, but commercial air service has not been restored.

One of her D.C. area employers said she stands ready to organize support for Iris. But for now Iris remains in Washington feeling helpless. She showed up for work at one home today to keep busy until she can find away to get to Tortola.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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