Utahn who survived Irma while vacationing on St. Thomas raises money for island's Mormon church congregation

While vacationing in St. Thomas last week, Utahn Lyle Winterton rode out Hurricane Irma inside a Marriott timeshare and made it back safely to Saratoga Springs several days later.

Winteton arrived home a different man, feeling guilty for traveling to the Caribbean island knowing a hurricane was coming and for being someone who “consumed instead of relieved” in a place where the residents were suffering so much.

So on Sunday, he set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $10,000 for members of the St. Thomas branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As of Monday afternoon, donors had given more than half that amount.

Winterton, a semi-retired chemical engineer, wrote he had woken up in tears on Sunday because he was dreaming about the island.

“When will they get power?” he asked on the GoFundMe page. “The estimate we heard over and over was ‘months.’ When will they get water? Same. What are they doing for food? Dunno. Where will they get the funds to rebuild their blown out windows or replace the roof? How about the car that had a tree fall on top of it? And what will they do for a living? That island will shutdown without any tourists! It breaks my heart.”

Winterton and his wife, Mary, had tagged along with another couple to their Marriott timeshare, figuring there was a 50-50 chance Irma would turn north and miss St. Thomas.

But the storm didn’t turn and they hunkered down on Wednesday, filling the bathtubs with water and locking their doors. As the storm intensified, they put a mattress over a bay window.

“What I didn’t know about hurricanes is that you don’t ‘see them.’ You hear them and feel them,” Winterton wrote. “Mary began to complain of ears popping. Eventually our apartment was so loud that you could barely speak to each other. And the ears were popping every 5 seconds. But worst of all, you could hear each gust and we could tell from the sound which ones were tearing things apart.”

The bad part of the hurricane lasted about an hour, Winterton said. The next day, it was still storming and there were downed trees and power lines covering the roads, which were all closed, he said.

“It was unnerving,” Winterton told The Tribune on Monday. “We had no idea how bad it was until Thursday. You can’t tell when you’re locked in.”

He said a curfew was in place and Marriott personnel “asked us to please not clean-up anything,” Winterton said.

“We were free-loaders in a place where everybody had devastating loss,” Winterton wrote on GoFundMe. “That has haunted me since.”

For almost two days, about 1,000 guests remained at the timeshares and two other Marriott hotels, Winterton said. The power was out and everything was wet, with some people staying in flooded rooms that had two inches of water on the floor, he said.

(Photo courtesy of Lyle Winterton) Hurricane Irma toppled trees and power lines in St. Thomas last week, leaving the Caribbean island without power.

Late Friday, Marriott took the guests at the three hotels to a very large ferry, which transported them to Puerto Rico, Winterton said. He said the travelers were checked into the San Juan Marriott at no cost and each was given a $50 food credit and $200 cash.

“This also broke my heart because we were not the ones that needed that [a] nice room, warm meal and cash,” Winterton said. “It was the folks that we left behind; folks that have almost zero resources.”

The GoFundMe money will be given to the St. Thomas branch president to distribute, Winterton said.