East Tenn. native survives Irma and Maria in Caribbean

Zac Mikles lived through Hurricane Irma and Maria in St. Croix. Photo courtesy Mikles family.
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An East Tennessee native has survived Hurricanes Irma and Maria in St. Croix as his family watches and waits in Maryville.

Zac Mikles is originally from Maryville. He moved to St. Croix four years ago, leaving behind a psychology degree for bartending and beaches.

"That's his home now, and he has a family there," said Holly Mikles, one of Zac's sisters. "Those are his island family and island friends."

Zac's family begged him to come home before the hurricanes barreled through the U.S. Virgin Islands, but he told them he needed to stay to take care of his island family and the sister islands that suffered damage.

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"He feels like he's where he needs to be through this," said Debbie Mikles, Zac's mom. "That's his island family, even though he knows he has family here, he felt that that was his priority was to be there and help his friends."

His family at home in East Tennessee has been worried about him as the hurricanes passed through. Cell service is spotty as they try to get in touch with him to make sure he is safe.

"You get a text randomly here or there, you know, when he does get service or a message here or there, but like I hadn't heard from him since 5:30 yesterday afternoon," Holly said.

Zac works and lives on the water. His family said he stayed in his apartment that was built in the 1700s through Hurricane Irma, but decided to stay inland since Maria was expected to be much worse.

"This morning, the first thing he said, he goes, 'I felt like I was at a Nascar race all night long. That's how loud it was,'" said his sister, Kristi Snyder.

Hurricane Maria made landfall Wednesday around 6 a.m. in Puerto Rico as a Category 5 hurricane. The eye dodged St. Croix, but the island still felt the full force of the eyewall where the strongest winds are.

"He said from the house he was staying in they were able to see two houses without roofs, lots of downed trees and were not able to go anywhere because the roads were flooded," Snyder said.

Zac was able to let his family and friends know he was safe by posting on Facebook since he was able to connect to Wi-Fi.

They talked to him on the phone later Wednesday, and Zac told them his apartment and restaurant are OK. He said it may be a while before power is restored.

Zac's family said he is coming back to East Tennessee to visit in October, and they are counting down the days until they can hug his neck after the ordeal he has been through this hurricane season.

Snyder said, "Two hurricanes in two weeks is too much."