St. Martin was one of the worst-impacted Caribbean countries when Hurricane Irma blew through. The island’s residents are now trying to pick up the pieces. Like Barbuda and the US Virgin Islands, it appears that it’s going to take years for St. Martin to recover:
Ten days after Hurricane Irma turned St. Martin into a jigsaw of ripped metal and shattered wood, residents were still struggling with an existential question: Should they cling to an island that can barely support life or start over elsewhere?
Irma hit the shared Dutch and French Caribbean island as a Category 5 hurricane with winds in excess of 200 miles an hour, turning the picturesque tourist haven into a sweltering trash heap without power, water or communications. What the hurricane didn’t steal, looters often did.
The couple, both natives of the Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten, said the chaos after the storm was almost as terrifying as the hurricane itself. The hotel where they took shelter was overrun by thieves who tried to break open doors with bricks. People were held up at gunpoint in the lobby, they said.
But what led them to leave the island is the hope that they might be more useful abroad. They’re both teachers on an island that no longer has schools. They’re hoping to make their way to Toronto and find jobs that will support those staying behind.
But St. Martin’s economic lifeblood, tourism, doesn’t seem like it will be pumping anytime soon. Streets remain choked with garbage, and hotels and rental properties have been cracked open like dollhouses with their façades removed. At the badly damaged Sonesta Hotel, in St. Maarten, the management was giving away all the furniture — and it was unclear if and when it would be replaced. A parking lot full of dozens of rental cars had been reduced to orderly rows of burned-out hulks.