Irma, one year later
These days are marking the 1 year anniversary after hurricane Irma wiped out the whole island of Sint Martin. I am getting a lot of reminders these days of all what happened before during and after this storm, and I have to say: it did leave some marks on all of us. This blog is an important to me, it defined a lot of choices that I made after experiencing this storm.
Unfortunately I don’t know the source of this picture but it describes so well how our island was exactly in the middle of the eye of the storm. Yes that lower blue dot is the island Sint Martin, the top one is the island Anguilla. Irma hit our island as a category 5+ hurricane with windspeeds recorded of 200 MPH. Imagine a formula 1 racing car of windspeed hitting into everything. No wonder everything broke.
Knowing that this storm was coming we were well prepared but I had no idea that this storm would have this long lasting impact. As you can see my house was boarded up perfectly. All of this did not matter: my front door blew out as well as these boards, glass sliding doors and most of the furniture. This sounds dramatic but was nothing compared to what other people went through. Friends of mine hided in their bathroom with a matras covering them, because the roof had already been pulled off in no time. Other friends were hiding in their closet while their roof was gone. I myself was in a hotel in the basement which was also not super chill, as you can read here.
My colleagues had told be beforehand: 'the hurricane will be bad, but the time after will be worse’. Initially I laughed about that, thinking on what could be worse than experiencing a hurricane, but they were right. The aftermath was way worse.
It was for me the most being disappointed in humanity experience that I have ever had. After surviving the storm when I walked out the first thing that I saw was a father with a child of about 6 years old. He was carrying a flat screen television, and the child was carrying a bag of jewels, freshly stolen. Most likely they didn’t even have a house anymore, but they were perfectly capable of stealing stuff, going to nowhere.
I worked in the local hospital and spend a tremendous amount of hours fixing up looters who got injured while they were stealing stuff. But naturally I still had to fix them, because that is what we do. I slept in the operating room for weeks which wasn’t a punishment because there was water and electricity there, as one of the only places on the island. Supplies went down fast, and people seemed not good prepared at all.
One of the things that shocked me most was also my own behavior. Beforehand I said to everyone, ‘just be careful’, and as fast as after 3 or 4 days I heard myself saying ‘if they come for you or your stuff, just stab them, I don’t care if you kill them’. I found it shocking to see how even I myself went from civilized behavior to survival modus. It made me see a dark side of myself that I didn’t like at all. Maybe keeping watch throughout nights with a manchete in the hand and sleep deprivation does that to you.
Naturally on an island that is tourism dependent the whole economy collapsed. Initially it didn’t really matter because everybody was so busy with clearing the roads and fixing their houses than a whole new chain of work was automatically provided. Construction workers were much needed and they also drove up their own prices robbing everybody else who wasn’t having any income.
Cost of living went up, unemployment rate went up, salaries went down, criminality went up. I decided to leave.
Now all of this is now as I said a year ago but it has marked us. I find myself thinking back a lot this week about a year back. The Sunday before the hurricane we were sitting with about 15 friends on the beach having like a last drink together the days before the storm would come. From all of those 15 people only two are still on the island, everybody else left for different reasons after the storm. We all took different paths.