Maeve Greenberg flew from Sonoma to the Caribbean island of St. Martin earlier this month to start her second year of medical school at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.
She arrived a few days before classes began because she had offered to serve as an orientation advisor for all the new first semester students.
Four days later, Hurricane Irma hit, destroying or damaging nearly three quarters of the island.
More than 200 American medical school students on the Dutch side of the island weathered the Category 5 storm and weren’t evacuated until three days after the hurricane hit.
Among those evacuees was Greenberg.
Along with nearly 700 staff members, new students and their families, Greenberg took shelter in the one building on campus that had been designed to withstand a hurricane of that magnitude.
There was no running water, working plumbing or Internet.
The island’s entire infrastructure was wiped out.
“It all seemed like one really long day,” said Greenberg. “We lost all track of time.”
Almost immediately the medical school began recruiting professors and medical students with relevant experience to staff an impromptu clinic on campus as the two big hospitals on the island had been destroyed.
The school became the island’s main medical facility, complete with a makeshift operating room. Greenberg pitched in to help out wherever she could, and once the storm subsided, she helped gather supplies at student and staff apartments off campus.
“We had no idea when we would be able to get out,” she said.
“There would be an announcement that 50 women and children should form a line and be ready to go in 30 minutes with only one backpack for each person.”
The airport was closed, but the runways had been cleared and once the storm subsided enough to fly, the Air Force was landing C130 cargo planes and getting U.S. citizens off as fast as it could.
“When it was our turn, we climbed into this big grey cargo plane and there were no seats or restraints, we just sat on the floor and held onto each other,” said Greenberg with a laugh.
From St. Martin, Greenberg was flown to Puerto Rico – which, too, would soon be devastated by a hurricane, Maria – where the school had organized hotel rooms and meals for everyone.
“The school was really well coordinated,” she said, “and took care of everything.”
The next day Greenberg was flown to Chicago, where the Marriott Naperville welcomed hundreds of students on Sunday and Monday night.
Greenberg could have stayed there indefinitely as AUC’s sister school, DeVry University, is based there.
But once a flight was available, Greenberg decided to return home to Sonoma to wait here for word on what would happen next.
She gets daily updates from the administrative team at the med school and the latest word is that classes will resume on Sunday, Sept. 29, in Manchester, England.
“Thankfully, none of this will affect my path at all,” said Greenberg, who graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara in 2015 with a degree in biopsychology. “I loved going to school in St. Martin though, it’s a beautiful island with really great people, and they will need a lot of support to get the place up and running again.”
Med school in paradise
The American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine is an international, U.S. curriculum-based medical school with a main basic science campus in Sint Maarten. Sonoma pediatrician Charles De Torres (and his two brothers) also attended the school. Founded in 1978, the university, which has about 1,000 students, is now owned by DeVry Inc.