~ Leaves one dead ~
By Judy H. Fitzpatrick
PHILIPSBURG--Hurricane Gonzalo barrelled through St. Maarten on Monday evening leaving one person dead and a wave of destruction in its wake.
The deceased, an 87-year-old sailor who was on one of the boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon, had survived Hurricane Luis in his boat in 1995, but succumbed to the category one Gonzalo. It is believed he was on his boat at the time of his passing.
His body was fished out of the lagoon near Boca Marina in Simpson Bay around 8:00am Tuesday. No one else was reported missing in Dutch St. Maarten, Chief of Police Peter de Witte confirmed on Monday, but French St. Martin authorities reported two persons missing as of 7:00 last night – one in St. Martin and one in St. Barths (see related story).
Gonzalo downed utility lines, knocking out electricity, landline telephones and cable TV in several areas; uprooted trees; flooded homes; blew off roofs, doors and windows; toppled boulders; caused mudslides; sank and completely destroyed 37 vessels; and in at least one case collapsed a pool.
"It was a terrible hurricane, the wind was very heavy, it did not feel like a category one at all," one resident said after weathering the storm, assessing the widespread damage at daybreak Tuesday.
"It caught us off guard because we were preparing for a storm," another resident said.
"The noise from the wind banging against my window was scary," said another resident.
Caught off guard
Many residents said they had been caught off guard when initially preparing for a tropical storm, but ended up with a hurricane after being notified at what they considered the 11th hour.
The country was placed under a tropical storm warning, then hurricane watch and tropical storm warning and then a hurricane warning on Monday as the storm was developing. Businesses were advised to close at noon on Monday and motorists were advised to be off the roadways by 4:00pm and to focus on their preparedness.
Some residents were witnessed closing their shutters and few boarding up late Monday. The roads were generally free of traffic by 4:00pm as authorities had advised. By this time the island had been experiencing a downpour for sometime already. By early evening the wind picked up and was barrelling across the island at peak strength around mid-evening Monday.
There were several reports of fires around the island during the storm, as well as reports of vessels firing flares. However, no major fire was discovered when the winds subsided, just sparks at GEBE boxes, amongst other places, Fire Officer Tony Gibbs said (see related story).
Several districts were plunged into darkness and taps went dry in a number of areas at different times during the hurricane. When the power went, some residents were tuned into radio to be updated what had been transpiring. On one station – Laser 101 – several callers relayed their experiences. Some were emotional and some in tears.
There were reports of roofs, doors and windows being blown off. One family reported being in their vehicle, given the destruction to their home, while several minors called in expressing fear and wanting to know when the hurricane would be over.
Most of St. Maarten was without light and water by Tuesday morning, but electricity was restored to most districts by early evening, when just one per cent of the island was still without electricity. Some residents were lucky to have had electricity, water and cable during and after the storm.
Gonzalo's destructive winds began to subside between 9:00 and 10:00pm Monday. Authorities began assessing the damage early and cleanup crews were out clearing main roads as soon as it was safe for them to do so.
The extent of the damage was evident by daybreak when many residents had a chance to see the destruction Gonzalo had left in its wake. In several areas residents were walking and driving around assessing the damage in their general areas and making sure their families and friends were okay.
However, the general scene was cleaning. Many residents were sweeping, mopping, chopping up downed trees and removing debris from their homes and businesses. Some were repairing damage or preparing to do so. The cleanup was extensive in some areas, as trees had fallen onto homes and crushed vehicles.
Several streets were impassable with power and utility lines and huge trees strewn across them. Several areas were under water. The area where the police homes are located on Walter Nisbeth Road was one such, area as water had poured into some homes and yards and partially submerged some vehicles. A pool collapsed in Mary's Fancy.
Some residents reported being blocked into their yards by fallen trees and mudslides. There were also reports of persons being blocked inside their homes by large fallen debris in front of their doors.
The St. Maarten Zoo was among the places Gonzalo did not spare. St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Foundation Vice-President Amy Arrindell said the facility had been "totally devastated" with uprooted trees and extensive structural damage, but noted that all animals were alive and safe (see related story).
St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) was one of the lucky ones. Although a tree damaged the vehicles of two staffers, the SMMC building itself suffered minor damages and safely delivered three babies in the midst of the storm, Director Kees Klarenbeek said (see related story).
A total of 37 boats were sunk or completely damaged by the storm, 22 in Simpson Bay Lagoon alone (see related story).
The disciplined services also sustained damage. The pier at the Coast Guard office was damaged when a boat slammed into it and one Coast Guard vessel that had been on a lift also was damaged. The renovation works at the Philipsburg police station suffered major damage and four police vehicles were smashed when the roof of the building near the police station toppled onto them.
Authorities said only one hotel had been partially damaged on its seventh floor. The Daily Herald understood that the hotel in question is Sonesta Great Bay Beach Hotel, but this could not be confirmed. Damage to other properties was "cosmetic," authorities said, adding that the damage was limited to greenery such as trees and plants.
The owner of Tamarind Hotel e-mailed this newspaper photos showing damage to that property, including damage to the inside of a room.
The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), which met yesterday to assess the damage, said in a press release that emergency services as well as technical crews from the utility companies had worked throughout Tuesday and would do so during the evening hours as part of the national recovery effort.
EOC said the landfill was open and persons taking debris there needed to be patient and wait their turn to enter the area.
The water level in Great Salt Pond was said to have one metre left before it reached its maximum water level when the release was issued after 6:00pm. Link 1 in Cay Hill was closed until further notice as a precautionary measure due to rock falls.
Cleaning of debris was continuing on the road leading to Dawn Beach and The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa.
EOC said cleanup efforts would continue on Front Street, Back Street and the main roads under the Ministry VROMI and private contractors. Secondary roads will follow. EOC said primary roads should be clear within another 24 hours. The cleanup of secondary roads could take up to 14 days.
Large green waste bins have been placed at various locations along the main roads to collect hurricane-related debris and will be placed along secondary roads as well, EOC said.
EOC advised homeowners and businesses not to dump bush, tree trimmings or other garbage/debris on top of GEBE water or electrical meters to prevent them from being damaged and affecting service to consumers.
EOC also advised residents in hilly areas to be mindful of mudslides and rock falls.
"If a retaining wall has given away at your home, do not remove it at this point in time. Let the ground dry out. Removing it now would create further slippage of earth," EOC advised.
Persons in need of assistance can visit the Department of Social Services today, Wednesday, during office hours from 8:00am to 3:30pm. Persons will be assessed on their individual needs and circumstances. Priority will be given to the most vulnerable such as senior citizens, handicapped and disabled persons.
EOC had said in an earlier statement that residents and businesses experiencing issues with sewage water should use disinfectant such as Clorox to clean.
"Remember to wash your hands frequently. Keep young children away from where the cleaning is taking place. If you don't have water, you can still throw the disinfectant on the area that needs to be cleaned and sweep/mop it away. Clean hands properly and avoid touching your mouth with dirty hands," EOC said.
It advised persons against fishing in the ponds and said persons should steer clear of eating fish from the ponds because they are contaminated with runoff water. "Consuming the fish is bad for your health."
Residents and businesspersons also were urged to check their yards and clean spouts and drains, etc., to remove containers that could become mosquito breeding grounds in an effort to stem mosquito breeding.
(Additional reporting by Darlene Hodge.)