KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Hurricane Maria was something Forest Hills Northern High School graduate Andrew Droste expected to ride out, just like Hurricane Irma a few weeks earlier.
But cellphone video shot by him chronicled the rapid change in the storm, which exploded into a Category 5 storm before slamming into the Caribbean island of Dominica, where Andrew was studying medicine.
“He said he could feel wind coming through his floor. Windows were shaking,” said Andrew’s mother, Deb Droste, who waited and worried with other relatives at their Kentwood home.
“The trees were parallel with the ground from what he could show us. Door jams were rattling. It was very intense early on,” she said.
Then there was nothing — no calls, no text messages. Direct lines of communication, like cellphone service, were down.
That was last Tuesday.
“There are so many ranges of emotions, that I can’t even put those into words or use adjectives to describe,” said Deb.
She relied on HAM radio operators, Facebook and the medical school’s blog for information from Dominica. Her kitchen became the family’s nerve center for monitoring conditions on the island.
Finally late Thursday, word came from Ross University School of Medicine:
Andrew was accounted for.
But the family wouldn’t hear his actual voice until Friday.
“We really couldn’t understand him because the connection was so bad,” Deb recounted.
Then another call came Sunday.
“Again, it was Andrew. ‘I’m safe. I’m waiting to be evacuated,’” his mother recalled.
Since then, Andrew has been able to tell his family more about his harrowing experience. He told his mother he had to crawl out of the apartment where he rode out the storm.
Following a light, he found a neighbor in another apartment. Andrew helped the neighbor grab some essentials and escape before the ceiling caved in under the weight of the rain dumped by Maria.
“Andrew said it was like the movies — they walked out the door, the ceiling fell down,” said Deb.
By Wednesday, Andrew had caught what his mother described as a “pirate ship” to nearby St. Lucia.
Late Wednesday morning, he was sitting on a plane bound for Miami. He was expected to be back in West Michigan Thursday morning.
With chaos in the region, Deb won’t be convinced of Andrew’s return until she sees his face.
But she’s also turned her concerns to the people left behind on Dominica.
“I feel guilty, if you will… to have a roof over my head, have the ability to drink water, sleep in bed. And these people have nothing,” Deb said.