NEWTON GROVE, N.C. (WNCN) — For days Daniel Cohen didn’t know if his 17-year-old son Zach had survived Hurricane Irma, but to him it felt like years.
“The whole thing was an emotional roller-coaster,” said Cohen.
The father and son are now finally reunited.
“42 hours, four plane rides, half a dozen Hail Mary’s and at least a few miracles to finally get back,” Cohen said.
While his father worried in North Carolina, Zach, his mother, stepfather, sister, and grandfather rode out the hurricane in St. Maarten. Zach says they spent most of the storm barricaded in the bathroom of his family’s apartment.
“Sliding glass doors falling, hurricane shutters collapsing, apartments gone, balconies were flown 50 feet in the other direction,” said Zach. “It was just a nightmare.”
Zach says there was a point where he wasn’t sure if he’d make it out of Irma alive.
“When everything was crashing and hitting and breaking, that’s when the most fear came through,” said Zach. “I was honestly scared for my life.”
Zach and his family survived the storm, but their apartment didn’t. The only thing left were the clothes on his back.
“I had heard on the radio that people were looting, murdering, raping,” Zach said.
Zach has cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures. His dad got him on a priority list for evacuation, but with everything going on, Zach worried about leaving his family.
“I didn’t want to leave the island, but I knew I had to go because I knew there would be no power, no water, no nothing for months,” Zach said.
His family left for Aruba, and Zach went with the U.S. military to San Juan, Puerto Rico. As soon as his dad got the call, he hopped on the first flight out.
“I had no idea where he was,” said Cohen. “I basically just walked out of the airport and stood there for about ten minutes trying to figure out what in the world am I going to do, walked up to a U.S. Customs cop and started freaking out on him. And he said, ‘Guess what, I’m a dad and I’m gonna help you.’”
The Puerto Rican authorities put Zach in child protective services, and from there Cohen spent hours convincing the authorities he’s Zach’s guardian.
“There was about 300 applause because everyone in the room knew me at that point, because I was freaking out for five hours pacing the entire room, but once we embraced everybody started cheering.”
Zach says he’s beyond relieved he’s home, and as for Cohen, the experience taught him an important lesson.
“Life is so precarious,” Cohen said. “You just never know when it’s gonna get turned upside down and the things that are most important to you, you will quickly understand is the very thing sitting next to you. Nothing else really matters.”