Wednesday September 06, 2017

Duty calls: Radio reporter, 19, broadcasts live from Anguilla at the height of Hurricane Irma

Broadcasting in a hurricane 1:38

Listen 6:12

Story transcript

Nisha Dupuis, 19, kept broadcasting the latest news about Hurricane Irma to the people of Anguilla on Wednesday, even when the storm caused the radio station's systems to shut down and she lost contact with her family.

Dupuis is a reporter for Radio Anguilla, a station on the small Caribbean island that was in the direct path of Hurricane Irma on Wednesday morning.

Powerful winds from the Category 5 hurricane slammed the island nation, toppling trees, destroying cars and ripping the doors, widows and roofs from homes and other buildings.

"To be honest, it was very frightening at the height of it," Dupuis told As It Happens host Carol Off on Wednesday afternoon after the worst of it had passed. 

"We were trying to protect the equipment, protect the board, while still receiving calls from people who were in distress — some crying, some saying that their shutters were blowing off, their windows are open, their doors are blowing open and they have children in the house."

At one point, one of the station's window shutters blew off and the building started to flood.

"I'll be honest with you — I did lose composure at one point because something slammed against the window and I just had to do a little yelp," she said.

Nisha Dupuis

Nisha Dupuis of Radio Anguilla kept broadcasting the latest news about Irma to the people on the small Caribbean island even as she struggled to reach her own family. (Nisha Dupuis)

While panicked people from around the island called in to share their stories and get whatever information they could, Dupuis lost contact with her own family.

Her mother works as a nurse at the local hospital where the roof had blown off, she said. Like Dupuis, she went to work to help with the relief effort, despite warnings to stay home. 

"There was one point where I was just pacing the hall, thinking of my mom," Dupuis said. "Right now, to be honest, I feel very heavy even talking to you right now. I'm just a bit terrible because I don't know what is going on with my mom. I just really want to make sure that she's OK."

Since speaking with As It Happens, Dupuis has learned that her mother is alive and well. 

Still, duty called.

When Radio Anguilla's systems went down, Dupuis grabbed her phone and a selfie stick and started broadcasting live from her personal Twitter account.

"It kind of distracted me from a bit of the weight of not hearing from my family," she said.

Irma is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history.

It first made landfall on the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, roaring along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

The heart of the storm passed over the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda around 2 a.m. ET, bringing heavy rain and howling winds that sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen in this NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center image from GOES-16 satellite. (NOAA/NWS/NHC/Reuters)

The worst of it has passed over Anguilla, but it's still not clear what the extent of the damage is. 

​Dupuis has been posting images on Twitter of the storm's aftermath on the island, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

When she spoke with As It Happens, she didn't yet know whether her own home was still standing.

A disaster like this, she said, "forces you to think outside of yourself."

"You realize how vulnerable you are, and you realize that all you have around you is each other. You know what I mean? So you rally up and you try to help and that is what keeps you going," she said.

"Knowing that there are people depending on this information, that there are people who are perhaps in worse predicaments than I am ... that really is the driving force that makes me be able to do this and just keep going and going."