PHILIPSBURG – On Monday September 4th, I picked up my phone for the first time in ten days. I had been on vacation with no access to Internet. I had expected a worried message or two from my mother and maybe some work-related emails.

I had not expected to hear that Irma, the strongest hurricane the Atlantic had seen thus far, was heading straight for my island: St. Maarten. It was late too take a flight back home, all I could do was wait.

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By Laura Bijnsdorp

16 hours of hell
“I am going to try and get some sleep.” Trudi Bijnsdorp, my mom told me on our phone around 11pm on September 5th, a few hours before the most destructive gusts of hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten.

It took 16 hours until I received a message from a neighbor. My parents were alive. As messages and news reports started appearing, it was obvious that many on St. Maarten had gone through hell.

Survivors’ guilt
After I heard that my parents were alive, the survivors’ guilt kicked in. I needed to do something. I started working with a group called ‘Hurricane Irma – Contact and Aid’, who aim to get as much reliable information out to the public and provide emergency aid for those in need on St. Maarten.

I wasn’t the only one, within two days persons worldwide started to figure out how they could do their part to rebuild St. Maarten. Dozens of initiatives, go-fund-me pages, supply collection points, awareness campaigns and fundraisers popped up.

Going back home
‘Should I go back home?’, was the question many St. Maarteners were facing. Our island was experiencing a growing lack of food and water, and it could be argued that going back was irresponsible. On the other hand many were eager to get back to their families and help rebuild our home.

All I could think of was my mom. Although she is tough, she is also in her late sixties and takes care of my dad who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. They were alone, in a house, covered in debris and no roof.

Together with a few other friends in similar situations we devised a plan. There were no flights headed to St. Maarten as yet. Our other option: a boat.

Sailing back
We flew to Martinique. We had heard many other boats were leaving from the French Islands towards Saint Martin. We landed and were lucky enough to quickly join forces with a go-fund-me initiative by BWA yachting. They had a boat, a captain and a good bit of donations. With the funds they raised we fervently collected as much water, food and emergency supplies as we could for our island.

On Wednesday, September 13, with a catamaran filled to the brim, we set sail to Sint Maarten. We arrived two days later, early in the morning in Simpson Bay.

I felt like I had sailed into an alternate reality of monochrome colors, rubble towers and disheartening silence. With a pair of binoculars I stared at the barren hillsides, my ravaged neighborhood and the leftovers of my house. I saw my mother climb on a wall, and wave through the lenses. I guess I was home after all.