With a hurricane hurtling straight for land, those in its path have no choice but to flee. The swirling storms tend to bring whipping, high-speed winds, rain and even walls of water straight from the sea, often causing dangerous floods.
That type of forecast is bad enough, but in September 2017, the strongest hurricane that the Atlantic Ocean had ever seen was tearing through the Caribbean towards Florida. As a result, the governor of the Sunshine State ordered residents in the storm’s path to evacuate.
So, like many others, 18-year-old Claire Connelly made her way from her university in south Florida to her home elsewhere in the United States to weather the storm. But her evacuation didn’t quite go as planned. At the end of her journey, in fact, she woke up and was horrified to find herself miles away from the safety of home.
When Hurricane Irma reached the island of Barbuda, it was unlike anything meteorologists had ever seen. Winds of up to 185 miles per hour whipped through the small island for 37 hours. The storm destroyed Barbuda, leaving it completely uninhabited – something that hadn’t happened for over three centuries.
With that sort of destruction already in the storm’s wake, Florida’s governor Rick Scott wasn’t taking any chances – especially as the storm was heading straight for the Florida Keys. Consequently, on the very day that Irma struck Barbuda, Scott issued an order requiring that the Keys be evacuated.
Eventually, that evacuation order was extended to include 6.5 million Floridians, including student Claire Connelly. The 18-year-old had headed south to Florida Gulf Coast University to study nursing, but decided to return home to New Jersey during the hurricane.
Her journey wouldn’t be an easy one, however. The last-minute ticket that she bought cost almost $1,000 and sent her on a roundabout journey to her home state. “I had to drive six hours to Jacksonville, and from Jacksonville I had to take a flight to Michigan,” Connelly subsequently told Inside Edition.
After that, she waited for two hours to catch another flight from Detroit to Newark, New Jersey. There, she’d finish the final leg of her journey: an hour-long train ride from the airport to her parents’ house in Highlands.
But the train ride wouldn’t end with the reunion, warmth and safety that she’d imagined. That’s because Connelly walked onto a train going the wrong way – and neither she nor the train’s employees noticed it. “The guy who checks tickets didn’t even notice mine said Middletown,” she wrote in a tweet afterwards.
If she had gotten on a train going in the right direction, her pick-up would have been a simple one: her hometown is just a 15-minute drive from Middletown. Instead, though, Connelly was going the wrong direction. And she was so exhausted that she fell asleep before she realized it.
“I fell asleep reading biology note cards,” the nursing student told NJ.com. “I was just exhausted from all the chaos.” While she snoozed, the train headed toward Raritan, New Jersey, a borough that’s a couple of hours from her parents’ house.
By the time Connelly opened her eyes, her train had made its final stop. But no one told the 18-year-old that she had to get off at the station. So instead, she woke up alone in a deserted train car, unsure of where she was.
Not only had the 18-year-old been left on an empty train, but it had also been taken to the railyard for the night. With only 5 percent of the battery life remaining on her phone, Connelly frantically called the police and her parents, hoping that someone would come pick her up.
After doing that, with what was left of her phone’s battery, she flipped the device’s camera on herself to record what was happening. “I literally just fell asleep on my train,” she said, walking through the empty cars. “I’m on a train, there is no one on.”
“I was screaming at the top of my lungs for help,” she added. “No one answered. The train was completely empty and shut down for the night.” Despite her apparent fear in the video, though, the Raritan Borough police showed little sympathy towards Connelly upon their arrival.
In fact, they told the college student that it was her fault that she was stuck. On her Twitter account, Connelly later wrote that the police believed that it was her responsibility to get off before the train was locked down for the night.
But many people who read Connelly’s tweet sided with her, saying that it was the train crew’s responsibility to make sure that the carriages were empty before locking them down at the end of the day. And, eventually, she had a surprising voice of support in her corner.
“It’s extremely rare for this to happen,” a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit, Nancy Snyder, told NJ.com in the wake of the incident. “It is the conductor’s responsibility to check the train.” Moreover, the organization was investigating why Connelly had been left stranded on the train.
Regardless of who was to blame, the Raritan Borough police did at least wait with Connelly until her parents arrived to take her home. At the end of her exhausting day of traveling, she told NJ.com that her misguided train ride was the “icing on the cake after being evacuated from my college in Florida.”
However, she did eventually make the trek back from her hometown to Florida Gulf Coast University when classes resumed post-hurricane. But that journey likely didn’t include any trains – after all, following her ordeal she’d tweeted, “Honestly, I probably won’t take the train again. I’m pretty horrified.”