Ulrich and Emma Halbert-Payne and their son six-year-old Harrison outside their home weeks before Tropical Storm Grace. - Photo: Submitted

Emma Halbert-Payne, who is 23 weeks pregnant, and her 6-year-old son Harrison fought off the storm for hours (husband Ulrich was off-island). Here, in her own words, is Emma’s story.

I woke up around 5:15am, grateful for a good night’s sleep. My first thoughts were of the storm and it certainly didn’t seem too bad since I hadn’t been woken by it. It was pretty windy and raining hard but probably just another Tropical Storm Eta – a bit blowy but not much more, and probably over quickly.

Harrison was already awake. I made a cup of tea and had only had a few sips when a terrified little boy came screaming into my room, shouting ‘Mummy, the doors, the doors have blown in!’ His face was pure terror and he was crying and screaming. I had never seen his face like that. It was now 5:30am.

Emma Halbert-Payne and her son Harrison after their ordeal. – Photo: Submitted

I ran to our front door – a large double entrance which is 6 feet by 8 feet – to discover… both [doors] wide open and the storm blowing directly into the house. The huge middle section of wood, where the locks were, had completely broken off and had flown about 10 feet into my living room! There were splinters of broken wood everywhere and a lot of rainwater had already come in.

I ran to the door in an attempt to close it but slipped on water. Luckily I broke my fall with the door and didn’t hurt myself, but was immediately concerned about my pregnancy. I quickly realised that all four locks on the doors had failed and were broken, including two deadlocks which had completely blown out. It was impossible to re-lock the doors.

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I ran to our large eight-seater dining room table and threw the chairs aside. All the while, the doors were open, and more wind and rain was getting in. The noise was so loud and it was still dark. I was feeling scared – this was just the beginning of the storm!

I pushed the very heavy dining table as fast as I could to the doors – a distance of approximately 35 feet and around a corner – I think adrenaline pushed it for me! I needed to find a way to re-close the doors and use the table [as a] barricade.

Fortunately, there was enough of a break in the wind for me to get the doors closed again and place the table, but it wasn’t heavy enough to keep the doors closed. The wind kept forcing the doors open. I had no choice but to stay there and keep pushing [the table] over and over again in repeated attempts to re-close the doors.

This was the damaged door that Halbert-Payne and her son wrestled with during the storm. – Photo: Submitted

It was still dark and power had gone. I was slipping on rainwater and couldn’t see where the hazards were. I needed help but we were alone. That’s when the true little hero of the story showed how incredibly brave and helpful he could be.

I asked Harrison to be brave and head to the kitchen to get the torches. That really helped so I could see where not to stand. We realised we needed a LOT of towels which are stored upstairs so I sent Harrison to fetch as many as he could carry.

I didn’t want him to be too close to the doors as they were being forced open constantly so I had to try to throw the towels at the water. Once I felt that we had enough towels down and I had the doors closed, I knew I needed to eat. Being pregnant, I knew that I would become weak very quickly as I hadn’t had any breakfast. I was already feeling faint and shaking from the stress.

Harrison fetched me food and water. The storm kept raging and some of the gusts forced the table a good foot open and into me several times. My biggest concern was that one gust could blow me backwards and I would be injured.

I kept thinking about what would happen to Harrison if I got hurt. He was so scared and kept saying ‘We need Daddy – tell me him to fly home to help you!’ I reassured him that it was all going to be OK but inside I was panicking that we were alone.

Being the only adult was terrifying – I only had the help of my 6-year-old son, but he was incredible, and proved that he was going to help very much. Harrison kept giving me little pep talks and words of encouragement, such as ‘Well done, Mummy’, ‘You’re doing a great job!’, ‘You’re the bravest mummy in the whole world’.

The battle with the doors went on for two hours. I had a plan B if I couldn’t keep it up; that was to hide in my bathroom and just let the storm rage through my house. I was already exhausted and just knew that I couldn’t go on like this forever.

Eventually, the storm winds changed direction, which meant I could leave the doors and run to the hurricane box in the garage which I knew contained rope. I tied the rope around the door handles as tight as I could. I had one chance to get it right, as at any moment the wind [might] change back and I’d be back into the battle.

I pushed a long and heavy console table and another piece of furniture to the barricade. I shouldn’t have been pushing anything heavy in my condition and I had many thoughts about the baby. If the wind came back that way, I wasn’t sure if the rope and barricade would hold so I sat there for about five hours in total waiting for the wind to come back – but it never did. Thankfully!

I couldn’t have done any of it without Harrison. It was remarkable, an incredible bonding experience for us both. I know we both learned that we could count on each other in a time of crisis. He was so brave and he stayed calm in order to help, and he really was a rock star!

I have since had the doors turned the other way so they no longer open inwards. We are buying new hurricane-rated doors but the lead time is two to six months. It was discovered that the door was rotten in places, which is why both deadlocks failed. This wasn’t picked up at the inspection.

We are lucky that things were not worse and we got through the ordeal in one piece, with our home intact. I am covered in bruises but no other injuries.
I have learned to never underestimate the potential of these storms and to never be alone.

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