Hurricane Irma pummeled St. Maarten/St. Martin on Wednesday as it tore through the Caribbean toward the continental U.S.
At least 10 people died, according to unofficial reports.
It was the most destructive hurricane to hit St. Maarten since
Hurricane Luis, in 1995. Recovery efforts began nearly immediately with individuals working to clear their neighborhoods of debris from the storm.
Debris, including scalped roofs, shattered utility poles and broken
walls, littered the streets, blocking many major streets throughout
the island. The damage was summed up sort of like this: winds of
intensity speeds ripped roofs of galvanized zinc sheets and tossed them about. These sheets became projectiles that shattered panes of glass in cars and buildings. Exposed houses, many made of thin sheets of plywood and thicker lumber beams, were then torn apart from the inside and became more damage-dealing projectiles. Poles fell under the ravenous gusts. Low-lying areas flooded. Sheets of zinc roofing, which could arguably have outnumbered any other type of debris, were wrapped around tree trunks and utility poles and columns of buildings.
A contingent of Dutch Marines were summoned to the island to help. French military servicemen also helped the recovery efforts there.
Communications towers folded under the heavy winds, which exceeded 185 mph. The island was without power, running water and cell phone/internet service from late Tuesday/early Wednesday.
The storm beached more than one dozen boats that were in
Simpson Bay Lagoon, including a few that had been abandoned from
some reports as long ago as the last hurricane.
On French St. Martin, several districts were obliterated, according
to residents who had seen the destruction and shared their
Looting began within hours of the storm’s passing.
Residents carried away cases of water, cans of juices, bags of rice
and other food in shopping carts and on dollies throughout
Wednesday and Thursday. Some residents stole refrigerators and
stoves and televisions and Styrofoam food containers and carried them through the streets on the backs of pickup trucks and on dollies near police officers, who were largely powerless to stop them.
One officer put it like this, “If we arrest everybody who is looting,
where we going to put them?”
He was hinting at the already limited space in the island’s police
holding cells and prisons. A curfew preventing non-essential travel
went totally ignored for more than 24 hours after the storm as
residents drove through the island in the battered remnants of their
cars that had lost windshields, mirrors and bumpers, and had
sustained other physical or mechanical damage.
At least two of the island’s premier hotels in Maho and Great Bay,
both under the Sonesta resort brands, were pulverized.
Staff worked all day Thursday to evacuate guests from the remnants of the Sonesta Maho Resort and its ultra-exclusive sister property, Ocean Point.
The hurricane peeled aluminum sheets from the island’s multi-million dollar Princess Juliana International Airport.
Residents of Dutch St. Maarten (colloquially known as “Dutch side”)
railed against government officials for their plans to keep hurricane
shelters closed until after the storm. It wasn’t until about 1 p.m.
Tuesday, when Prime Minister William Marlin addressed the island, most residents learned that decision had been reversed, and the shelters would have been opened from 4 p.m. that afternoon. French side residents had been allowed to evacuate to their various shelters throughout the day.
St. Maarten runs on tourism. The island boasts of more than 1 million visitors each year, by cruise ship alone. Resorts on the island
employee thousands of locals and immigrants. These resorts often
partner with or own casinos, bars, lounges and other entertainment
spots meant to draw guests. Tens of millions of dollars exchange hands during the tourism high season between December and May.
Click here to see a complete gallery of photos from the aftermath of the storm.