Monday, October 16, 2017 - 11:30

Eden Project marathon competitor Melisande Rowe arrived just in time to take part in the big race yesterday (Sunday October 15) having survived the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma.

The category five storm early last month (September) was the worst ever experienced on her home of 21 years, the British Virgin Islands, and caused widespread destruction across the island chain.

For 15 hours Melisande and her husband Mike Rowe, who grew up in Falmouth, Cornwall, huddled inside their bay-side apartment on the main island of Tortola and saw out the hurricane as half of their rented home was washed away by the surging Caribbean.

The company they run, Sail Caribbean Divers, suffered huge losses.  The seven boats in its fleet were either sunk or damaged and their marina-based office was destroyed by the invading sea.

Melisande, Mike and their staff escaped shocked but unscathed. In the weeks since, as they helped with the recovery on the islands, she hardly had time to run but was determined to compete in the 26-mile Eden Marathon, which she ran last year for the first time.

After arriving in Cornwall late on Friday, USA-born Melisande said: “It has been a very harrowing time for everyone on the BVI. Mike and I feel lucky to have come through the hurricane intact.

“At one stage we were sitting with our backs to the wall upstairs as the sea ripped off the storm shutters downstairs and smashed through the wall-to-ceiling  windows, sucking out everything we couldn’t manage to shift before the hurricane hit.

“Our home will need rebuilding and we lost treasured possessions including our wedding album but we are fortunate to be able to move into another more secure place, unlike many other islanders whose homes and livelihoods have been wrecked but who don’t have another place to go.”

Melisande, whose brother-in-law David works as head of media relations at the Eden Project, added: “Running my first marathon last year was really tough but I loved the experience. Thinking about competing in the Eden Marathon again has helped me stay focused these last few weeks.”

On a previous visit Melisande had her picture taken in the Rainforest Biome at Eden. The lush vegetation and tropical heat reminded her of home in the Caribbean.

Husband Mike, who works voluntarily with VISAR, the BVI equivalent of the RNLI, and sits on the board of directors of the islands’ tourist board, said: “I’m proud of Melisande for her fortitude in completing the marathon after the challenges of the past month.  It’s great to be visiting Cornwall and to be able to cheer her on.”