Our Narratives

Click here to edit subtitle

 

Through Hurricane Irma and A Tsunami -
A Family in St. Martin
      

By Joderber, January 8, 2019

Courtesy: http://viajesme.com/


Mrs. Su came to French St. Martin from New York.  She opened a restaurant and a grocery store to make a living.  St. Martin is an island in the Caribbean sea famous for its beautiful views of the sea and it’s a great retreat spot for tourists.


She got used to hurricanes every summer.  Hence she would always prepare ahead of time to fill the storage with enough supplies.


On September 5th, 2017 it was announced that Hurricane Irma was approaching.  Her American relatives persuaded her to return to the US. She stayed anyway because she was experienced with seasonal hurricanes.  It would come, and it would be over.


Late at night the hurricane became a Category 5 and arrived with a vengeance.  No one expected it to be so powerful and fatal with 180 mph wind speeds; around three times as fast as the fastest speed we normally can drive on the highway.  It not only uprooted trees, but it also blew huge freight cars as if they were Lego toys into mid-air and tossed them down.


The relentless torture of the hurricane lasted at least four hours.  The roof shook, the family hid under the staircases and in the restrooms while listening to the ghosty howling of the wind, clanking planks, banging doors, and the screaming and crying of the people outside.


Even though she was overwhelmed by fear, she kept reminding herself “I can’t be afraid!  I have to tell everyone that it will be alright! It will soon be over!”


Suddenly the roof was blown away.  Water was everywhere inside the house.  The beds, blankets … all were soaking wet!


Finally, it was daybreak, but another hurricane was fast approaching.

Courtesy: Lionel Chamoiseau / AFP / Getty

Not knowing why, suddenly the sea became a tsunami.  It no longer had the typical charming blue-green seen under blue sky with drifting, peaceful white clouds.  Then dark torrents rushed toward everyone. She and her family ran like crazy toward higher ground. When she looked back, all she saw was the sea engulfing one house after another like an insatiable creature.  Some men jumped into the water to try to rescue loved ones, but the sea water was so turbid that doors could not be located nor unlocked. Helpless people, pregnant women, children … none could escape and many were drowned right in front of her eyes.


When the hurricane was over, the devastated island looked as if the end of the world had come and gone; around 60-70% of the buildings were totally ruined. The power lines were down and the underground water pipes were all broken. There was no power and no clean water.


Everywhere -- from the airport, residential areas, roads -- one could only see rubble and broken buildings.  No communication with the outside world was possible. Even rescue supplies could hardly find a way in. The media described the hurricane as the worst in a century and the aftermath as “the whole island is almost gone!”


Mrs. Su’s restaurant and house were destroyed, so were the properties owned by her sister and her sister’s family.  The grocery store, being quite a distance from the sea, luckily survived. Mrs. Su put all the food from the restaurant, fish, shrimp, meat, and all the other edibles, in front of the door for people to take. She and her sister’s family could do nothing else but all move into the store for shelter.


The new International Princess Juliana Airport on the Dutch side of the island was in a ruinous state and was unable to operate.  Many Am

ericans waited in lines for the US Military to help them leave the island. Mrs. Su’s elderly parents waited for about three to four days to finally be transported in military airplanes to go back to New York.


Mrs. Su decided to stay.  All she could think was, “I can’t leave!  I just can’t! Otherwise, what can all the others do?  What can my employees do?” She had no idea; she could only stay there to face nightmarish threats.

Courtesy: Lionel Chamoiseau / AFP / Getty

Indeed, the nightmares were not over by then even though the hurricane was gone.  Without water and food, people started looting. Schools were smashed as were houses that had been (mostly) spared by the hurricane.  All the food in the supermarkets was gradually looted and gone. Unprecedented crimes and violence were everywhere.


After a few days, there was no more food to be found.


Every night Mrs. Su and her family, hiding in the grocery store, heard about forty people holding weapons and sticks banging and smashing the store.  Mrs. Su and her family trembled, not knowing how long the store with weak windows and doors could survive such attacks.


They asked for help from the police, but the police were overwhelmed.  They were told to each carry a gun. In an emergency, as a matter of self-defense, they would have to open fire.  If anyone was killed, the police said that they would turn a blind eye. Until order could be restored, it was everyone for themselves.


Finally, after a long while, about 2,800 soldiers and police were sent from France to restore order.  But it wasn’t enough; some folks who had taken food from her restaurant also tried to protect her and her family with sticks outside the door.


Food and water were extremely expensive due to their scarcity.  Mrs. Su gave some of her food to the hungry and the rest she sold.   At that time people would pay any price to buy what they needed.


There was no power for more than a month.  Then a giant generator arrived from France.


There was no water supply for six or seven months.  The only way was to transform the sea water into drinkable water.


It took time for roads, schools, and communication systems to recover.  Homes and houses needed to be rebuilt. It would be very difficult to restore this place back to what it once was -- a paradise.  How would St. Martin survive without tourist visits?


With global warming and greater temperature variations the heat from Western Africa and the cold air above the Atlantic can easily form hurricane and, with the way the earth rotates, will likely be threatening the Eastern side of America and the Caribbean islands situated at the Western end of the Atlantic Ocean.


I don’t know if Mrs. Su and her family should stay in the Caribbean or leave for America for good?