Rebuilding Sint Maarten will cost hundreds of millions of euros: Minister

An USAR team builds a new roof for a Sint Maarten home damaged by hurricane Irma, 20 Sept 2017
An USAR team builds a new roof for a Sint Maarten home damaged by hurricane Irma, 20 Sept 2017. (Photo: @USARNL / Twitter)

Rebuilding Sint Maarten after the devastation Hurricane Irma left behind, will cost hundreds of millions of euros at least, Minister Ronald Plasterk of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations said in the Tweede Kamer on Thursday. From next week Friday, the Dutch government will work on starting an aid fund for the island, reports.

Exactly how much money will go into that fund, and where that money will come from, is not clear yet. It will also not become clear in the coming weeks. The new government must look at that, Plasterk said. The Netherlands will work on this with the other countries in the Kingdom - Sint Maarten, Aruba and Curacao. Plasterk thinks it's good that "all countries in the Kingdom" are visibly involved in helping Sint Maarten. 

Plasterk also said it is important to make very sure that the aid fund is properly organized, so that the fund has final responsibility for granting credits, making decisions and giving orders. 

Hurricane Irma damaged 91 percent of the buildings on Sint Maarten. Plasterk believes that a large number of people on the island are not insured. The Minister pointed out that there are large disparities between rich and poor on the island, and the hurricane only increased those differences. According to him, the poor people's homes were least structurally sound, and they were also least insured.

Plasterk also said that this reconstruction should be used to make sure the buildings on the island are built better and more sustainable than before. That will cost extra money.

The Minister revealed that 25 Sint Maarten residents reported to municipalities in the Netherlands to ask for shelter. Shortly after the hurricane, Defense flew nearly 100 residents of the island to Eindhoven. There was also a second Defense flight, and after that Sint Maarten residents could come to the Netherlands on commercial flights. "Sint Maarten residents have a kingdom passport and are allowed to be here. It is primarily up to themselves to take care of shelter, for example with family or friends", a spokesperson for Home Affairs said to "But if they can't do it, they can report to municipalities."

An Urban Search and Rescue Team that went to help out on the island shortly after the hurricane, is returning to the Netherlands on Monday, RTL Nieuws reports. "Briefly said, with a toolbox, we moved through the neighborhoods, and those who needed us, we went there." Camille Michel, team leader of the USAR, said to the broadcaster. Among other things, the team of emergency workers patched up many homes - including that of an elderly couple so that they didn't have to sleep in the car - and went to all 34 schools on the island to help them open again as soon as possible.

The municipality of Amsterdam announced that it is donating 850 thousand euros for reconstruction on Sint Maarten - the first municipality to give such a large amount, according to "We're giving about one euro per inhabitant", a spokesperson for the municipality said.

During a national fundraising day for the island last week, the municipality of Dronten also donated about a euro per inhabitant, amounting to 40 thousand euros, according to NOS' live blog of the event. The Wadden islands together donated 10 thousand euros.