St. Maarten – Hurricane Gonzalo claims two lives – destroys everything in its wayPOSTED: 10/15/14 7:36 PM
St. Maarten – Hurricane Gonzalo took the lives of one and possibly two people in St. Maarten, and another two in nearby St. Barths. Préfet Délégué Philippe Chopin confirmed the deaths on French territory. According to reports—which have been confirmed by police spokesman Ricardo Henson- one sailor drowned on a boat in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Gonzalo hit St. Maarten hard on both sides of the island. On the French side, power went out at around a quarter past five. Half an hour later in came back but then twenty minutes later the internet was down.
Around a quarter past seven a thunderstorm added to the gloomy atmosphere Gonzalo spread around and not too long afterwards there was another blackout.
The hurricane-force wind battered windows, roofs, trees lampposts and utility poles. Windows rattled and heavy rainfall, driven by the hurricane kept residents busy mopping up the invading water.
Around nine o’clock, the island seemed to be in the eye of the storm and everything calmed down. Thought there were warnings that the tail of the storm could still bring gusty winds and heavy rainfall, not much came of that.
By ten o’clock everything went quiet.
Radio stations kept citizens abreast of developments. A French-side station reported lots of fallen trees and road signs. Lightning reportedly hit a transmission mast. The storm smashed several boats on the rocks in Simpson Bay.
Laser 101 was on the air all day with Elektra and Glen Carty, talking to dozens of callers and advising them about the safest course of action. One caller told the station that the family had fled into its pickup truck after the storm had blown away the front door of their residence.
Yesterday morning, St. Maarten woke up to the severe damages the storm had caused across the island. Broken and uprooted trees, ripped off roofs and broken utility poles were the order of the day. Many businesses remained closed.
On the road from Grand Case to Marigot, two utility poles hung precariously over the road, but there was no sight of the gendarmerie or emergency personnel to warn motorists. Traffic flowed slowly around these and other obstacles, as if the drivers wanted to take everything in,
In Galisbay, the huge aluminum mast of what was once a sailing boat lay across the footpath along the water. The boat, or what was left of it, had disappeared under water.
In Marigot, behind the fish market, hundreds of little rocks the storm had blown out of the water blocked the road. A bit further down, a German sailor sat dispirited next to his destroyed catamaran Rostock. The storm smashed the vessel on the rocks on Monday afternoon around a quarter past five. “I was on board, the ageing sailor said. “Windspeed was at least 75 miles per hour. I have been sailing in the Caribbean for eight years, but this is it. It is over. My wife is in Las Palmas at the moment and that is where I will go.”
The Rostock was not the only boat to meet its maker at the hands of Gonzalo. Near the Beach Plaza Hotel several boats were driven onto the beach, though their damages seemed to be limited.
In Cupecoy, the Blue Fin restaurant, adjacent to the Atlantis Casino, was in a big mess after the storm ripped off huge signs from the roof of the establishment. The road in Mullet Bay was, inevitably, flooded to the point where some motorists opted to turn around.
At the roundabout near the airport, the sign Welcome to St. Maarten stood crimpled and lost, but closer to the sea, it was business as usual at the Sunset Bar.
In St. Maarten most stores remained closed in the morning. The law office of VanEpsKunneman VanDoorne and the Public Prosecutor’s Office remained closed for the day, because there was no internet.
Back on the French side, Orient Beach suffered heavy damages. The storm destroyed nearly all the beach-side restaurants and watering holes and it shoved a boat up on the beach near Papagayo, the restaurant of the clothing optional resort Club Orient, where someone described the situation as “a war zone.”
Anthony Prall Jr. reported that he lost twenty solar panels and a couple of windows of his house in Guana Bay. The solar installation on the library also became a prey for Gonzalo, but the one on the building of the Today Newspaper is still in one piece.
On Mount William Hill, traffic was blocked because a huge tree had come down. Elsewhere, in all districts, it was pure pandemonium with dozens of downed trees, utility poles, advertising signs and power lines.
Radio host Glen Carty at Laser 101 spent all of Monday on the air, fielding dozens upon dozens of phone calls from listeners. “I find that we live for a large part in denial, we live in our comfort zone,” Carty told this newspaper. “Ever since Lenny (in 1999 – ed.) nothing special has happened, so people start thinking that the next storm won’t be anything special. This is why many people have not done everything they should have done. They had not expected that this would become a hurricane, and one that hit us directly.”
Since the beginning of the hurricane season on June 1, laser 101 has broadcast daily information spots about hurricane preparation. “It goes in one ear, and out the other,” Carty says. “Hurricane preparation also costs money, we know that. It is impossible to predict these events, or how they will work out. Gonzalo could also have been a category 2 or 3 hurricane.”
Carty says that the government could have reacted “a bit more alert” to the situation. “On the other hand, people also have their own responsibility. If the government orders all businesses closed and nothing happens, it will get a lecture.”
The callers to Laser 101 were a diverse crowd, hungry for information about the storm. “It lasts a long time, there is a lot of noise and it is dark,” Carty says. “People panicked, some were crying, they wanted to know how long this was going to continue.”
Carty did what he had to do: he gave listeners information – fast – but he also urged them to remain calm and to take sensible actions.
Returning to the issue of the not all that alert government, Carty notes that UTS, the Daily Herald and the Today were the first companies that decided to close their doors in the face of the approaching storm. “We took the lead, and the government later followed,” he concludes.
To handle storm situations better in the future, the government should work with a script Carty says, one that makes immediately clear what to do once the Met Office announces that a storm is approaching.
Carty agrees that the airport has also been too slow with its information about its closure. There was no information about this decision on the airport’s website.
In the aftermath of Gonzalo, St. Maarten needs to work hard on good public relations, Carty says. “People are going to read: hurricane in St. Maarten, two people dead. They will go somewhere else. It is important to address this now, because this is the time when people are booking their vacation.”
What also needs attention: looking at what broke during the hurricane. “Big trees, hanging cables from Gebe and Cable TV, and large advertising billboards. Those billboards are dangerous and we need a policy for them. Gonzalo is also a good reminder that all those cables need to go underground.”