Brooke Quinn Dunphey was on her way home Saturday night, 3½ weeks after Hurricane Irma left the former Portland educator stranded in St. Thomas and wrecked her plans to work there for a year.

Dunphey, 36, flew out of St. Thomas at 2 p.m. Saturday and was waiting for a connecting flight in Atlanta when she described her feelings about finally coming home to her husband in Wells and other family members and friends in Maine.

“I’m doing so much better,” she said. “I’m so excited. I’m halfway home. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before.”

Dunphey’s saga started Aug. 29, when she arrived on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands with her husband, Will, for a few days of vacation before her work for the St. Thomas Department of Education was to start.

Her husband flew back to his job in Maine a couple of days ahead of Hurricane Irma. When Irma hit Sept. 6, it destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure and leveled homes, and her dream adventure turned into a nightmare. Then Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20.

Homesick and terrified, Dunphey made do without electricity or running water, cooking macaroni and cheese on a propane stove, charging her cellphone with her car’s battery and lighting her apartment with candles and solar lamps.

Dunphey said the airport in St. Thomas finally opened Thursday, but all flights were quickly booked. When she booked her flight for Saturday, it was the eighth time she had tried to schedule a flight home.

“I’m really exhausted and drained, but excited to see my family and friends,” she said. “Physically, I’m tired and I can’t wait to take a hot shower, because those bucket showers weren’t cutting it.”

Without running water in her apartment, Dunphey was forced to douse herself with buckets of freezing cold well water treated with drops of chlorine to fend of diseases.

Dunphey was a psychologist at Lyman Moore Middle School and Lyseth and Riverton elementary schools before arranging to work in St. Thomas schools for a year. Unfortunately, three schools have been condemned and three schools are being used as shelters, so her plans to work on the island have been scrapped.

“The schools aren’t opening anytime soon and I need electricity and a paycheck,” Dunphey said, noting that teachers in St. Thomas are planning to provide educational services as soon as possible.

Dunphey said she will search for potential job openings in a few Maine school districts.

“I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get a job,” she said.

In the meantime, she’s looking forward to getting home, resting up and spending time with people she’s been missing for weeks.

“My husband is picking me up at the airport and I’ll be visiting with family and friends on Sunday,” she said. “I can’t wait to see everybody.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

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