photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “Can’t we just catch a break” says Melanie Choisy, St. Maarten resident as hurricane Maria, heading to the Leeward Islands, strengthened from a category 3 to a category 5 in just a few hours.

It has been just two weeks after Irma devastated St. Maarten. Irma’s maximum winds were 185 mph as it raked through the Leeward Islands, including Barbuda, Anguilla and Saint Martin. It was the strongest storm to ever hit that region in recorded history. Having two such storms form in the span of two weeks was beyond anyone’s imagination.

St. Maarten residents fix roof with tarp

The atmosphere yesterday on the island as persons prepared for Maria was divided. Some in an anxious frenzy; doing their best to protect whatever belongings they have left. Others seemed to have surrendered to their faith.

“We will just have to face whatever Mother Nature has in store for our island. At least it looks like she will stay South of us, which hopefully will just mean a lot of rain”, Falco Vliegen, another resident stated.

Get your tarps ready
With over 90 percent of the structures damaged on St. Maarten, and Maria on its way, the demand for tarps and other material to protect houses and belongings is high.

Waiting for hurricane Maria. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp.

“Tarps now available at Kooyman”, dozens of people posted on Social Media on Monday morning. Organizations such as Samaritans Purse distributed a number of tarps to the public and welfare institutions on Sunday. “My neighbors can use every tarp they can get.” mentions Lionel Linturn who collected a free tarp from Samaritans Purse, for his neighbors who lost their roof.

More action is needed
Not just tarps, but water and food remain in high demand as well in many communities on Sint Maarten.

Many have been deeply disappointed with the lack of action taken by those responsible in the Government of St. Maarten to set up a proper distribution plan. As no action was taken for over a week, individuals had to take matters into their own hands, reaching out to neighbors, friends, family and any other lifelines to get the items that they needed to survive.

Island resident, Peter Holmes: “I am ashamed of our elected leaders, but very proud of the many Sint Maarteners who are tirelessly working to help others and rebuild our island.”

K1 Britannia, a non-profit foundation, is one of the few initiatives that have been distributing supplies on a consistent basis since Irma hit the islands shores. In the past few days they have made sure to provide the persons under their care with at least 72 hours of supplies to survive whatever conditions Maria decides to bring to Sint Maarten.

Sympathy for surrounding islands
“To my fellow Islanders south of us going full on with Maria, be strong! These hurricanes knock us down, but don’t keep us down! #caribbeanstrong” – posts Sint Maartener Jovan Halley, a few hours before Maria ripped through Dominica.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook as Maria was battering their island: “So far winds have swept away roofs of almost every person I have had contact with, including my own. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”

St. Maarten has now been bumped up to a hurricane watch area, as Maria draws nearer, luckily heading a bit South of the island, hopefully meaning that the worst gusts won’t make it to shore.

Instead Maria heads straight for Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. “It is as if Irma told Maria: I forgot a few islands below, can you get them”, St Maartener Nina Bijnsdorp says in disbelief.