Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Saba prepare for Hurricane Irma
People on the islands of Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba are frantically preparing for Hurricane Irma to hit. The class 5 hurricane is expected to hit the islands that form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands around noon. Wind speeds of around 295 kilometers per hour, heavy rains and flood waves are expected.
In preparation for the massively strong wind gusts, island residents nailed shut window frames and door frames, according to NU.nl. Gardens were cleared of loose standing furniture and items, to prevent them being picked up by the wind and hurled through the air. Many also stocked up on water, food and batteries, to make sure they have the most essential items on hand.
Over 100 soldiers were deployed to the three islands for military assistance. These soldiers will help maintain public order, assess and map the damages and direct local residents to places they can take shelter.
Fishermen put their boats on anchor, hospitals canceled surgeries. Newspapers, schools and government departments are closed on Wednesday. The authorities want to make sure that as many people as possible are at home when the hurricane hits. Sint Maarten also prepared eleven storm shelters, according to NU.nl.
The Princess Juliana International Airport on Sint Maarten closed its doors on Tuesday and will remain closed on Wednesday. Flights to the islands are canceled.
Travel agency TUI is offering travelers who booked a holiday on Sint Maarten, alternative holiday packaging as they can't go to the island. A flight that was set to go to the island on Tuesday morning, skipped the stop there and flew directly to Curacao, according to the Telegraaf.
Travelers already on the island , were flown back to the Netherlands on Monday with a KLM flight, according to the newspaper. On Tuesday TUI still had 36 travelers on Sint Maarten. About 15 of them were taken to a safe area in the south of the island. The others are believed to be staying with family and friends. These passengers will be flown back to the Netherlands as soon as possible on the next KLM flight.
When the Princess Juliana airport will open again, will depend on damages sustained during the hurricane.
In addition to the military support, the Netherlands also already offered to assist in dealing with any damage the hurricane causes, according to newspaper Trouw. In the past, the government already invested in hurricane-proofing the islands that form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For example, many power lines were placed underground and the islands' disaster plans were improved.
After passing the Dutch islands, the hurricane will continue its way to Puerto Rico. There 456 shelters were prepared that can accommodate over 62 thousand people, according to NU.nl. By the weekend, Irma could cause problems in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. The American state of Florida could also be hit. The exact course of the storm is not yet predictable. The authorities of the Bahamas ordered that residents be evacuated from at least six of its southern islands.