A mother's story of riding out Irma, finding safety in Brooklyn

These are desperate days on some of the Caribbean islands decimated by Hurricane Irma. Food and water are scare, and desperation has set in. NY1's Lindsay Tuchman introduces us to a family that evacuated to New York, and is now working to help those that lost everything.

Sara Chanowitz and her children are in Brooklyn with friends after managing to fly out of Dutch St. Maarten following Hurricane Irma, which pounded the Caribbean paradise as a Category Five storm, leaving the island in shambles.

"It was scary, it was intense. It's hard to describe it in words," she told NY1. "But you felt like the world was being ripped apart around you."

Chanowitz and her husband, Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz, run St. Maarten's Chabad House, one of the many Jewish communal centers operated worldwide by the Lubavitch movement based in Crown Heights.

The couple and their five children rode out Irma in the concrete Chabad House instead of their home. When they emerged, they bore witness to the devastation, which is seen in photos in the video above.

"We saw utter destruction and chaos," Sara Chanowitz said. "I mean, roofs on the floors, and overturned vehicles, and trees everywhere, and people lost everything — their homes, their businesses, their belongings — things were just swept away with the wind."

The Chabad House has broken windows and serious water damage, but Chanowitz said rebuilding isn't their priority. Instead, she says, it's helping others.

"We're committed to our community, we're committed to our island," Chanowitz said.

Chanowitz said she did not see the thieving and looting reportedly rampant on the island.

But after three days, she and her children evacuated on a U.S. military flight to Puerto Rico, and then on to Newark.

Her husband stayed behind to help, including distributing food that he and his wife prepared in advance of the storm. The need is so great.

"He saw a little girl on the street with her mother, with nothing, and, after giving them some food and water, he handed them a little toy, and the mother looked at him and started crying and said, 'You don't know what you did for her; today is her birthday.'" Chanowitz said.

Emergency aid has begun flowing to the island, but there is so much to be done. Chanowitz said she plans to return with her children once she knows what supplies are needed.

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