Even with storm winds beginning to swirl around them on Wednesday morning, Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Zarchi, co-directors of Chabad Lubavitch of Puerto Rico, had to make a few stops in San Juan before they could get to where they hoped would be a safe refuge from the impending Hurricane Irma.

First, they delivered kosher food to a couple from New Jersey staying at a hotel on a business trip. They were scheduled to leave on Thursday.

“I left them with something; they are good for a couple meals through the storm,” Rachel Zarchi told Chabad.org

Then they stopped at another hotel to check on a man from Florida who had recently been in the hospital for an emergency medical procedure.

They told his relatives, who had called with concern, that he was walking around, “safe and secure in a fine hotel,” says the rabbi and head Chabad emissary in the Caribbean, who has called Puerto Rico home since 1999.

At that point, the Zarchi residence, which sits right on the ocean, had been secured. The couple had removed debris from outside the property and cleaned drains to avoid flooding, and the rabbi had immediately moved the Torah scrolls to an enclosed room.

As they drove away from home with the approaching hurricane’s winds beginning to pick up, a tree fell down across the road behind them.

They reached their friends’ apartment on the 14th floor of a concrete building around 10:30 a.m.

By that point, Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, had pounded the islands of Barbuda and St. Martin. The four “most solid” buildings on St. Martin, shared by France and the Netherlands, had been destroyed, according to French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb. Communications between Paris, and St. Martin and St. Barts, are down.

The storm was predicted to hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re hoping that the damage is minimal, and that all can go on to what needs to be done,” said Zarchi. “It’s right before Rosh Hashanah. We have a lot of work to do.”

The Zarchi family
The Zarchi family