The aftermath of Hurricane Irma on St. Maarten / St. Martin

By Kerry Biddle on 18th September, 2017

As the Caribbean braces itself for Hurricane Maria, Kerry Biddle-Chadwick, editor of destination St. Maarten / St. Martin Magazine reports on her experience of Hurricane Irma and the relief effort.

Hurricane Irma St Maarten St Martin

A photo taken on September 6, 2017 shows broken palm trees on the beach of the Hotel Mercure in Marigot, near the Bay of Nettle, on the French Collectivity of Saint Martin, after the passage of Hurricane Irma. {Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images}

“Our ears were popping in the rapid pressure drop as the ferocious storm outside tried to tear the house apart around us. Suddenly the eye of Hurricane Irma was over us, the wind dropped considerably and the rain came down in flurries instead of horizontally.”

Hurricane Irma

Many buildings were damaged by Hurricane Irma. {Photo credit: SXM Mole}

“The island of St Maarten/St Martin breathed a collective sigh of relief and prepared for the second half of the banshee hurricane to finish what it had started. Just enough time to move to a safer location, fix a hanging hurricane shutter, or, against all advice, go out and take photos and videos of what the hurricane had done so far. Little did anyone know that the second half of the hurricane really would finish what it had started.”

“Wooden buildings were reduced to matchsticks and roof sheeting was piled head high in the streets in some places. People emerged from the safety of their bathrooms and stairwells, where they had taken shelter for hours, to a desolate scene of destruction.”

Hurricane Irma

Cars were tossed around like toys. {Photo credit: SXM Mole}

“The power and internet had stayed on right through the tearing winds, but when the eye passed and the true fury of Hurricane Irma was unleashed, everything went off – no power, no running water, no phones, and no internet, bar a few. The island had effectively been cut off from the rest of the world for days to come. The few who still had internet started putting up post apocalyptic photos for the world to see.”
Hurricane Irma

The vegetation has been stripped bare of leaves. {Photo credit: SXM Mole}

“Radio stations relied on generators to power their equipment to get the news out and to tell people where to go for help, food, or water. For many the situation was desperate; they had lost everything. Many roofs had been ripped off exposing the interior to the full force of 185 mph sustained winds and driving rain. The gusts were much higher and did the most damage.”
Hurricane Irma St Maarten

Trying to dry clothes and bedding after the roof was ripped off. {Photo credit: SXM Mole}

“Very soon the shell-shocked islanders started clearing operations. That was the only way they knew how to deal with the situation and probably the most cathartic.  Already areas that looked like a junk pile with impassable roads, were cleared enough for cars to pass three days later. Soon people started to get power and internet back, area by area as the utilities companies worked round the clock to restore some normality to people’s shattered lives.”
Hurricane Irma

Majesty of the Seas – Provisions being loaded in San Juan on Royal Caribbean’s ‘Majesty of the Seas’ for St Maarten hurricane relief. {Photo credit: Mike Pace and G Michelle Smith}

“In the days that followed, aid and Dutch Marines poured in on the Dutch side and Gendarmes and aid came to relieve the French side. People were evacuated to various other islands – French and Europeans to Guadeloupe and Martinique with military aircraft, Dutch to Curacao, some to St. Kitt’s, and American tourists and citizens to San Juan. Royal Caribbean sent cruise ships packed with supplies to drop off and then to help with the evacuations, even allowing people to take their animals with them.”
Hurricane Irma

Aid arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport. {Photo credit: SXM Mole}

“As of this writing, the evacuations continue, but those who elected to stay are working feverishly to get the island patched up and working again – just in time for the first wave of intrepid travelers who don’t mind that the island is not exactly as it was before Irma hit on the 6th of September 2017.”
To find out more about ways you can help people affected by Hurricane Irma click here.