Being hit by a disaster
It has now been over 5 years since St. Martin got hit by hurricane Irma. One of our co-workers here at Dynaf, Werner, who is general manger of Dynaf location St. Martin, has been living on the island for several years and has experienced the disaster that happened. We interviewed him to hear his part of the story.
Life before the storm
‘The reason why I came to St. Martin was because of Dynaf and my wife. My wife grew up in St. Martin and wanted to go back to the island she grew up in. We had stayed in Aruba before we went to St. Martin. Before moving to St. Martin, the occurrences of hurricanes did cross our minds, but that did not stop us from going.’
Preparation for disaster
‘3 to 4 days prior we heard that hurricane Irma was going to hit us, St. Martin, but we did not know where. North, south or the middle of the island. When we heard the news, we already knew that our current house at the time was not going to make it through the hurricane, so we made the decision to leave our house and go to the Dynaf office to set up. Before we left our house, we barricaded our doors and cabinets, grabbed important documents in zip-lock bags and tucked them under our shirts. Most people already have water and food ready, so we only had to grab a few boxes.’
‘The Dynaf office has a roller shutter at the warehouse part of the building. We built wooden boxes in front of it to make sure that it was protected. We also decided to build extra plates to make sure it was really solid and wasn’t going anywhere. The third thing that we did was put 4 x 8 beams in front of the plates and to be fully ‘storm-proof’, we put chemical anchors in the floor on both sides and put a 250kva generator in front of the barricade. The generator was strapped to the wall and ground. For the inside we put bags of sand in front of the door. As a last resort be decided to create some sort of ‘safe room’.’
‘The hurricane started at 5AM and lasted till 11AM. At first it is a tropical storm, and it then turns into a hurricane. So, you have the tropical storm then category 1 hurricane, category 2, till hurricane category 5. We then had 45min when it was absolutely silent, the eye of the storm. Then it starts again category 5, 4, 2, till it completely passes.’
‘In the second part of the storm, one of our roller shutters got taken by the wind. It was a door that we did not reinforce. At that moment all the wind came into the building, and it felt as if the building got taken into the air. That is the difference in air pressure and part of our illusion, because a whole building of concrete does not get taken into the air like that. We all felt the hurricane, but we did not see it.’
‘After the hurricane, St. Martin was devastated. The first two days were pretty calm, but on the third day the raiding of supermarkets began. The raiding was something that was more dangerous and scarier than the actual hurricane. I also landed in such a situation when we were heading towards a generator check-up. That was really scary. On day 4 they announced the state of emergency, the marine came, and people were not allowed to leave their house, except for certain people with a card, including us. After a week, the roads were accessible again and on day 10 conversations with banks and supermarkets started to discuss their reopening. So, after 10 days people could already ‘move around’, but it took at least 3 whole months for things to get back to normal.
‘When the hurricane past, 20% of the population of St. Martin (9.000 people) at the time decided to leave and never came back. These people took a plane to the nearest neighbouring countries/islands and either stayed there or took another flight to a different location. Even the airport was full of cars of the people who fled the island.’
A tip for the readers
‘My advice is, make sure that you have two week’s worth of food and water, per person. At St. Martin water came back after 4 whole weeks. We always try to have more food and water than is necessary, because we know that there are people who don’t have food, so then we can also provide them with supplies. We had supplies for 5 to 6 people for 2 weeks. Also make sure to add some variation to your supplies of food. I ate those green granola bars for weeks straight. I do not want to see or eat those again. Besides that, it is convenient if you have backup power, flashlight with batteries, cash and a radio.’