When Billy Nahn and his wife, Shanie, decided to spend a long overdue honeymoon on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, they never expected to spend the bulk of the trip scrambling for supplies, making a mad dash across the island and relying on the kindness of others to help them survive Hurricane Irma.
Nahn admits it made for a good story, though, which is exactly why he decided to write his first novel, “Love in the Eye of the Storm: Hurricane Irma, Saint Martin & Togetherness.”
Nahn grew up in Wisconsin, where he went to journalism school to become a writer, director and producer for television commercials. He came to Arizona to work for GoDaddy, a job where he ended up directing the Super Bowl commercials for the company.
Nahn and Shanie married in 2011.
“She was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year,” Nahn said. “She has a family history, so we took an aggressive approach. Jump forward to 2017 and she’s six years cancer free. But we never got a honeymoon, so we decided to go to St. Martin.”
That was the year Hurricane Irma swept into the area, a category 5 storm about 425 miles wide with sustained winds measuring up to 185 mph. That made it the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record behind Allen (1980).
But there was no inkling of the impending trouble when Nahn and Shanie made their way to St. Martin, where they soon found themselves directly in Irma’s path.
“There had been a tropical depression, or something whipping up, but nobody knew for sure,” Nahn said. “So we were watching it, and it just kept getting more serious.”
Nahn said he and Shanie arrived on St. Martin in late August and the first few days of their honeymoon went according to plan.
“The sense on the island wasn’t too nervous yet,” Nahn said. “So we were enjoying ourselves. It was still calm up to about Sept. 3. Shanie’s father was a Navy jet pilot, so he’s very astute when it comes to weather patterns. He sent us emails saying, you know, you guys need to think seriously about doing something.”
Evacuation wasn’t Nahn’s first plan, as there was still no solid read on what Irma would evolve into or where it might head.
“We started doing some prep, buying supplies and planning,” Nahn said. “The question was, even if it’s a hurricane, does it just blow through, affect things for a few days and then we’re back to normal? It was still a low category at the time.”
On the night of Sept. 4, Nahn said he had a nightmare. In the dream, he discovered a body lying face-down in the sand and, when he turned it over, he saw his own face.
“That morning, I started calling airlines to try and get a flight out,” Nahn said, smiling. “But it was too little, too late.”
The only thing left to do was prepare as best they could and find a suitable place to hunker down.
“Shanie reached out to friends she had met on a previous trip to St. Martin,” Nahn continued. “They had purchased a bed and breakfast villa in April and said we could join them.”
Battling language barriers, confusion, a lack of communication and general disarray from the incoming hurricane, the couple made its way to what would be their sanctuary through Irma’s wrath.
Nahn wants to leave the bulk of the story for readers to discover on their own, but the events that followed were harrowing.
“Overnight, the whole thing changed,” Nahn said. “Irma came in early, early morning on Sept. 6.”
Nahn described the sounds of what he thought were rifle shots all around the apartment where they waited out the storm, only to discover it was the sound of all of the tree trunks snapping like twigs.
“Everything got louder and louder,” Nahn said. “The pressure, before the major gusts, made your ears drop. We watched glass bow in and then bow out…The sound of that wind, trying to find any way into your building, is horrifically ghostly.
“It’s pitch dark and you’re hearing stuff hit everywhere. Objects are moving above you. It was terrible and it lasted nine hours as the storm went right over us.”
From surviving the storm to assessing the nearly complete damage that followed, as well as making it back across the island and eventually home when there was no power or communication, Nahn and Shanie had what could conservatively be called a “memorable honeymoon.” For the rest of the story, the book is available on Kindle for $2.99 or, for members of Kindle Unlimited, it’s included in the subscription.
When asked what made him want to turn this ordeal into a novel, Nahn said he just needed to get the story out.
“Surviving the storm was one thing and surviving the aftermath was another,” he added. “A lot of people have written to me after reading it and told me it was the first time they really felt what it would be like in the middle of a hurricane.
“Some who have been through hurricanes – or other traumatic experiences – suffer from PTSD about storms, rain and wind. They’ve said they were thankful because they can now read about something they experienced and know their feelings, their emotions, what they saw and felt, were not imaginary or overblown. The shared experience with this book has been all worthwhile.”