Dutch King visits Sint Maarten; first evacuees arrive in Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander and Minister Ronald Plasterk of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations arrived on Sint Maarten on Monday afternoon, local time. They landed on a battered Princess Juliana International Airport, where they were immediately faced with the devastation Hurricane Irma left in its wake. Back in the mainland Netherlands, a more hopeful scene unfolded at Eindhoven Airport, as the first 100 or so evacuees from the hurricane hit island were reunited with family members.
The Dutch King and Minister examined the damages to the airport before making a trip around the island to see the devastation left by Hurricane Irma with their own eyes, according to newspaper AD. The King spoke with emergency workers, police and military personnel and also had meetings with Governor Eugene Holiday, Prime Minister William Marlin and the Justice Minister on the island. They visited the local hospital and were informed about the situation of the port and the airport - both crucial for the provision of emergency supplies - as well as the problems with water supply.
King Willem-Alexander and Plasterk spent the night on Sint Maarten. On Tuesday they will travel to the islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius, which were also hit by Hurricane Irma, though sustained less damage than Sint Maarten.
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Back in the Netherlands family members anxiously waited at Eindhoven Airport for the KDC-10 that brought the first evacuees. The air force plane flew about a hundred people from Curacao - where the evacuees were brought first - to the Netherlands.
The evacuees only had some hand luggage with them, according to the Telegraaf. "We had to leave everything", 53-year-old Mehrdad Zinatbakhsh said to the newspaper. "Our house is gone, we'll try to find temporary shelter with my in-laws."
Almost without exception, the evacuees spoke of chaos on the island. "You think you know what to expect from such a hurricane", a young woman said. "But this is terrible. The despair struck." A boy told the newspaper how the hurricane blew a hole in the roof of their house. "During the eye of the hurricane, we crawled onto the roof to quickly fix it", he said, adding that he is happy to be safe in the Netherlands. "But I left family behind. It's a big mess!"
For family members in the Netherlands, the past days were also stressful. Jan Klaas Faber from Friesland heard nothing from his 21-year-old son for over two days. "The last thing he said on the phone was: the roof is coming off the house, I have to hang up", Faber said to the Telegraaf. "Then 2.5 days nothing. Luckily he finally called when he got some power and WiFi at a hotel. He lost everything, he only has his swimsuit and a T-shirt left. They had no water there, nothing."
Daughter Evy excitedly watched the plane, carrying her parents Hettie and Berrie Goevaerts from Bergen op Zoom, land, according to Omroep Brabant. She knew her parents survived the hurricane, but had no idea how they were really doing. Communication with the island is still almost nonexistent.
"You feel so powerless", another family member, who was waiting for her daughter and grandchildren, said to the broadcaster. "They are one and three years old, that they had to experience this..."
Eindhoven Airport is the only military transport airport in the Netherlands and therefore plays a crucial role in the relief provision for the hurricane struck islands that form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. All air traffic between Sint Maarten and the Netherlands is currently happening from Eindhoven Airport.
On Friday the Dutch broadcasters and the Red Cross is holding a national action day to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Irma on Sint Maarten.