(FOX 46 WJZY) - For the past month, Alonzo Long had been planning to propose to his now finance, Monet Stearns.
"It was a complete surprise to her and the hardest part was keeping it a secret," Long said. "We are watching a movie, and the lady in the movie is like, 'I thought you'd never propose' and she's in the corner, like mmm."
They planned a four-day trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, where the proposal took place on the second day of the vacation. The trip coincided with Stearns' birthday and also, Hurricane Irma.
"It started out beautiful. And wonderful. Paradise. And sunny and blue skies. And happy. And then it turned into panic. And oh my God, how are we doing to get home?" Stearns said.
They were scheduled to return to Charlotte on a flight, Wednesday. The couple checked their flight status on Tuesday, after hearing about the increased threat of the storm tracking in their direction. They saw the flight was cancelled.
They originally booked with Southwest Airlines.
"We had two travel agents, family and us trying to get in contact with them to get rebooked. But we couldn't. So we said, we're just going to have to figure it out from here on our own," Long said.
The newly engaged couple said they started with a taxi ride to the U.S. Embassy to see if they could get advice and help.
From there, they took another taxi to a local airport in the Dominican Republic. No flights to the US before the storm hit were available.
"I looked at the airport worker and I said, we just need to get to America. But nobody had anything. It was just no, after no, after no." Long said.
The couple took a taxi to another local airport, where they were able to find a flight leaving Wednesday evening to New York. From there, they flew to Raleigh and drove back to Charlotte, arriving back home Thursday.
The storm came through the Dominican Republic Thursday.
The pair spent thousands of dollars buying new tickets to get home. It's unclear if they'll be refunded their money from Southwest Airlines.
"Every second mattered, you can't put a price on it when it's a threat of a storm like this," Long said.
The couple said escaping back to the U.S. was a memorable experience that is now paired with a monumental step in their relationship.
"Very scary," Stearns said. "I felt stranded. I didn't like feeling like I had no control of if I was going to get home or not. I'm glad to be back."