Hurricane Irma turned the once beautiful isle of St Martin into a rubbish dump. The tourist industry, on which the island is financially dependent, has virtually come to a standstill due to the destruction of many hotels on the island. EUR students Nympha Richardson (21, Marketing Management), Kess Lusia (23, Organisational Change and Consulting) and Yashita Mamtora Atmaram (21, International Business Administration) tell us about their experiences of the storm and about St Martin’s future.
Nympha, who lives in the Netherlands, spoke to her family just before the hurricane reached St Martin. “When the storm began to hit its stride, I was talking to my mother on WhatsApp. In her final message she told me that a window in the living room had just broken and that water was flooding the house. After that I was unable to contact her for sixteen hours,” said Nympha. “Those were very long hours.”
There were Facebook groups where people notified each other of the whereabouts of island dwellers who had gone missing or had been found. Kess discovered through such a group that his father was OK, then decided to help others in the same way. “I was wondering what I could do to help from such a distance. I decided to carry out some online investigations. I copied and pasted messages to Facebook pages to help other people find their relatives.”
Saved in the nick of time
Yashita is doing a student exchange in St Martin and was on the island when the hurricane hit. She and her family had decided to take shelter with friends because they themselves lived in an old and vulnerable house. “When the windowpanes on the upper floor started bending inwards, we fled to the ground floor. As soon as we had made it downstairs, the front door flew open and the wind freely blew into the house. Time stood still at that point. I knew the roof would be blown off if too much wind entered the house. Somehow my father and my cousin managed to shut all the windows and protect the house from powerful gusts of wind for over half an hour.”
Finally able to wash her hair
Once the hurricane had passed St Martin and things had calmed down on the island, the period of recovery commenced. “My family was hit less hard by the storm than other people on the island,” said Kess. “Their house barely sustained any damage, while others lost their roofs and entire parts of their houses.”
Nympha’s family also got through the storm unscathed. “The roof was spared and the house was reasonably intact.” But now that three weeks have passed since the storm, the situation is still far from ideal. “My relatives are bored to death and are very hot. They have no power or water, so they haven’t been able to take a shower for over a week now. My mother told me she was glad that Hurricane Maria, which passed nearby, dropped so much rain, as it finally allowed her to wash her hair.”
The students hope that the situation in St Martin will continue to receive attention, because first aid is only a temporary thing. “The Red Cross did a great job. They made people aware of the disaster and collected around fourteen million euros,” said Kess.
“But the Red Cross only provides emergency assistance. They are already leaving the island of St Martin. There have been a few local initiatives that not only focus on the primary reconstruction of the island, but also on reconstructing the education system. Many schools were looted during the storm. New school supplies must be purchased so that children will at least have the assurance of going to school after the hurricane that turned their lives upside down.”
Since the Caribbean is hit by more powerful hurricanes every year, St Martin will have to adjust. “We will have to rebuild the infrastructure so as to be able to successfully deal with powerful hurricanes like Irma,” said Yashita. For his part, Kess felt that construction materials have to be improved: “With this hurricane we had a lot of problems with zinc roofs. They are highly unstable and vulnerable. And a zinc roof left on the ground after a hurricane will turn into an immensely dangerous missile the next time a hurricane hits.” He hopes the hurricane has opened world leaders’ eyes. “This was a wake-up call to the entire world. We must really start taking climate change seriously.”