Sint Maarten still not completely recovered 5 years after Hurricane Irma
Five years ago today, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the island of Sint Maarten. In the years since, much of the island has been repaired, but there are still people waiting for their homes to be fixed.
The hurricane damaged or destroyed an estimated 91 percent of all homes on the island. Eight people died, all on the French side of the island.
Following the natural disaster, people in the Netherlands quickly started donating to help Sint Maarten. The Red Cross raised 19.9 million euros via a Giro campaign in the Netherlands. And the Dutch government earmarked 550 million euros to assist. Most of that money is being managed by the World Bank.
And the financial assistance has resulted in repairs. According to Caribisch Netwerk, tourists will hardly notice that Irma almost destroyed the island five years ago. But many locals are still heavily affected.
One older woman told Caribisch Netwerk that her home still hasn’t been repaired, despite all the promises she heard. “But what can I do?” She no longer expects to get her home back - she can’t afford to repair it herself - so she is now hoping to build a shed next to her destroyed house, using her pension of 500 guilders. “So that I can be home. Because home is home,” she said.
Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel confirmed to Parool that many residents are still affected by the hurricane. The government promised to rebuild the poorest citizens’ houses better than before, and Mossel knows of some cases of wooden structures being replaced by concrete. But that is not the case for everyone.
In the spring, Mossel visited a woman who waited nearly five years for a new home and got one that was barely better than the one she had before the hurricane. “They just replaced the wood with new wood and reused the roof. This woman still doesn’t have a decent kitchen, just a sink.” The woman was delighted with her new home, but it broke the Ombudsman’s heart.
Other residents are also still living in post-hurricane conditions. For years, the local authorities have been talking about moving people who live too close to the landfill site that was opened shortly after Irma. But nothing has been done, Mossel said to Parool. “Everything is promised to them, but there is still very little on paper. In the meantime, some houses need urgent maintenance, but the residents don’t know whether they should invest energy in it because they may be moved later.”
Claret Connor of the National Recovery Program Bureau acknowledged that not everything is happening at the same pace. “Some projects simply need more time, and we also want to do it right. We can only spend this money once and don’t want to make mistakes,” Connor said to the newspaper.
The Bureau expects it will take at least until 2028 to complete all recovery projects. The implementation may not go smoothly everywhere, but Connor is convinced that Sint Maarten will come out of this disaster stronger. “I am a true optimist and see that we are building a better island for future generations.”