LOUDOUN CO., VA (WUSA9) - They planned the trip to St. John to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday, then Hurricane Irma formed.
"We'll go for a couple of days then we'll get out," Jenny McMahon explained of their rational to fly to the Caribbean as a major hurricane was approaching.
When they arrived on the British Virgin Island of St. John Saturday, Sept. 2, it was gorgeous.
"No big deal. Obviously, I'm not going to stay there for that," said McMahon.
But flights and ferries out were cancelled.
"We tried desperately to get out. We were literally stuck," said McMahon.
Irma hit Wednesday around noon. The foursome were hunkered down in a windowless bedroom in the Westin Hotel.
McMahon says they felt as safe as they could be. The resort is situated on the northern part of the island next to a mountain, which provided some protection.
"Those buildings held up incredibly well," said McMahon.
During the storm, the building's fire alarm went off and continued for the next three hours, said Ronda Powell, who co-owns Hillsboro's Old 690 Brewery. She says she knew lots of people back home were praying for her.
"I was never nervous, scared, and panicked," she said.
But McMahan was scared. And so was her husband, a Dominion Energy supervisor who has responded to many disasters.
"He kept texting, 'I love you, I love you, I love you. I was like, Stop it.'" she said.
When they walked out of the hotel the next morning, "that's when you really realize. There was not a single leaf on a tree. It was like you went to bed and it was summer and you woke up and it was winter. It looked like a nuclear bomb went off," said McMahon.
"The faces on the people were of shock. And the stories coming out of people just surviving just broke your heart," said Powell.
Even though it was a terrifying experiences, the women say they're grateful for it because it changed them and gave them a new perspective on life.
"All I kept thinking was we get to go home. We get to leave. This isn't where we live. We have something to go back to. These people have nothing," said McMahon.
She says it was almost a better trip because of what they went through. Instead of being just a nice vacation, they experienced a life-changing event.
"I learned so much about myself, about other people," said McMahon.
Powell added, "We came back much more humble. You appreciate the things that you have."
The women vow to do whatever they can to help the people of St. John get back on their feet.
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