Med student escapes hurricane-ravaged island

Andrew Droste
Andrew Droste is reunited with his family at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. (Sept. 28, 2017)

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A medical student who survived two hurricanes in the Caribbean weeks apart has finally returned home to West Michigan.

Andrew Droste was stranded for nine days on the island of Dominica.

“That’s him!” his mother yelled as he made his way down the hall at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Thursday morning.

The long walk to the concourse was nothing compared to the nine days on a Caribbean island essentially wiped out by a Category 5 hurricane.

“I made it. I made it,” Andrew Droste said as he hugged his mother.

“So many different emotions. I’m just so happy to see him,” Deb Droste said as she tried to hold back tears.

After days of worry, with little or no communications and havoc-fueled confusion, Andrew Droste was able to leave the Caribbean Wednesday.

“It’s all so surreal. When I heard the words, ‘Welcome to Grand Rapids,’ it truly hit me,” he said.

The 25-year-old Forest Hills Northern graduate is first-year student at Ross University Medical School on the island of Dominica. He and his classmates rode out Hurricane Irma on the tiny island nation in early September. Hurricane Maria was a different story.

This Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, GOES East satellite image provided by NASA taken at 20:30 UTC, shows the eye of Hurricane Maria as it nears Dominica. (NASA via AP)

“It was right on top of us. And it intensified so rapidly, no one truly was prepared for that devastation,” Droste said.

The sights and sounds were something he said he’ll never forget.

“Nails ripping out of roofing. Trees snap. Not branches but trunks snapping. Concrete splitting. The glass shattering,” Droste said, describing the height of the storm.

Droste survived the hurricane, but the ordeal wasn’t over. He escaped his wind-damaged, flooded-out apartment with little more than a backpack, his passport, a few electronic items and the clothes on his back.

He and others began searching for survivors and at one point, found a neighbor trying to bail water from his apartment. One look at the apartment’s ceiling and Droste convinced the neighbor it was time to leave.

“It was like being in the movies. The ceiling came right down after us,” Droste said.

When Droste and his fellow American medical students finally arranged a way to get off the island, he left what he couldn’t take with him for the locals.

“Yeah, we had three days of food and water, but supplies were so limited. There’s no power, no electricity, no running water,” Droste said.

He said there were reports of looting and other crimes on the island and U.S. military special forces were brought in to control the chaos.

Still, Droste said he hopes to return to the island once order is restored.

“They literally have nothing,” he said. “Seeing that devastation, helping the locals as best as we could. These people need our help.”