Sahlman Blog Series: Part 11 – A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

A series by author Susi Sahlman

This is the 11th post in a series by author Susi Sahlman. This post was originally published on Susi’s blog, Sahlman Art Blog. You can check our her beautiful St. Martin themed original artwork here

December 19, 2017 – Every Irma story varies depending where on the island the people were. Besides the screeching wind and the sound of “bombs going off”, the other distinction was that the buildings all shook. It’s hard for me to imagine the cement structures literally swaying to and fro. After hearing this, it is a wonder more structures didn’t collapse. The air pressure could be felt in the chest and ears were popping. It was oppressive.

Our friends in Orient were enjoying a cappuccino down in the village when the evacuation orders came. The entire village area had to clear out. After the storm our friends ventured back down the hill and were in total disbelief at the devastation. Debris piled all over and the palms dividing the main road in the village snapped with a car suspended in one of them.

I forgot how far inland the surge came and that this area was hit with a forty foot tsunami. The clearing out of standing buildings has begun. Black mold took over quickly and cannot be painted over. This all on the left side as one heads toward the beach. Le Noon has set up shop in front of their space. A canopy covers a bar, it’s hard to tell if they’re serving any food though. The Chinese grocer is open for business. In the restaurant court yard a couple of places are also up and running.

I was proud to hear that U.S. Marines were down on the beach as part of the relief efforts. They set up a desalination station where locals could get fresh drinking water. The French Foreign Legion made their rounds into the neighborhood handing out ration boxes. Only, the French would hand out duck, canned salmon, and couscous. The kit was complete with a self contained burner for cooking and matches. We wonder if the less fortunate in the less desirable areas got the same treatment. In another area with villas, they received shrimp, pasta, and Rosé.

Many people were glad to have been on the French side of the island in the aftermath. The Dutch also feel the same way about their side. This makes it difficult as an outsider to get a clear picture of how it really was. Many people ran out of food and water. They waited in long lines at both airports in hopes of leaving. In Grand Case, passengers who gathered all they could carry, were forced to leave all but one item behind. The street became lined with their possessions. It was rumored that pets were not allowed on some flights either. Carrying only one suitcase, these people became refugees.

We met a couple fostering a young dog on Orient Beach. She was found in a ditch after Irma with something sticking out of her eye. She lost the eye and had a broken leg that also needed attention. The wind was especially strong that day and the pup was clearly uncomfortable. Healing is a process and for some it takes a long time. Nature keeps proving this to us and encouraging us in the process.

Another difficult aspect of the aftermath is the lack of jobs and housing. We’ve heard stories of price gouging for apartments. One landlord is trying to force his renters from their homes before the lease is up. The unit must be empty for six months before he can remodel with the insurance money and then raise the rent. Meanwhile, others are taking in people. The orphanage is just one example. When a child turns eighteen, the small government stipend goes away. Not everyone is ready to launch at that age. Thankfully they let her stay.

The resilience in the face of all these challenges leaves no room to wonder about the hashtag #sxmstrong.

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Jon Ferlise

I fell in love with the island of Saint Martin the first time I visited to celebrate my 40th birthday in May of 2009. Since then, I've spent most birthdays there, and have visited countless other times getting to know this wonderful place and the friendly locals that make it so special. I adore the culture, the people, the community, and the beauty of this stunning island. SXM Strong is a website that I started to support humanitarian relief efforts following Hurricane Irma. There was no plan, it just evolved as I witnessed the devastation that Irma caused the island and the huge need to communicate and disseminate information about what had happened and how people could help support this island and its people.

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