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Gonzalo wreaks havoc in St. Maarten

Cars_damaged_by_a_landslide_on_Gladiola_Drive~ 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.

Destruction

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.

Emergency Operations

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.

Assistance

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.

Public health

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.)

Gonzalo destroys 37 boats, 22 in Simpson Bay Lagoon alone

By Judy H. Fitzpatrick and Darlene Hodge

PHILIPSBURG--Boats were not spared the wrath of Hurricane Gonzalo which barrelled through St. Maarten on Monday evening, sinking or completely destroying 37 boats.

The hurricane claimed the life of an elderly sailor, who was on one of the destroyed boats near Boca Marina in Simpson Bay (see related story).

The number of boats destroyed excludes damaged dinghies and vessels that suffered minor damages. A total of 22 of the completely destroyed or sunk boats were in the Simpson Bay Lagoon; nine in Oyster Pond; three at Bobby's Marina and three in Great Bay, Acting Head of the Coast Guard and Head of Operation Wendell Thode told The Daily Herald on Tuesday.

The pier at the Coast Guard office suffered some damage when a wrecked boat slammed into it during the midst of the storm. One of the Coast Guard vessels that had been on a lift also suffered minor damages.

Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets said several boats sank after breaking from moorings and anchors. "Many mariners were caught off-guard and did not get to prepare as they normally should," Bervoets told this newspaper.

A number of salvage companies were busy Tuesday looking through the wreckage on the water. The foundation is assisting in the shoreline clean-up of gasoline and diesel spills caused by damaged boats using absorbent pads and boons. The main concerns are gasoline, as diesel evaporates relatively quickly.

Once the seas calm down, the foundation will check all marine park installations, as well as the mangroves in Mullet Pond for damage, Bervoets said adding that the lagoon still houses wrecks from previous hurricanes.

St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (SMMTA) President Brian Deher said there was "significant damage and loss in the marine industry." The damaged boats included one yacht in port at Isle de Sol. Three boats nearby sank and another was seriously damaged. There was no structural damage at Simpson Bay Marina, but one charter boat sank. No boats were damaged at Dock Maarten in Pointe Blanche, as all boats present were in lifts. The breakwater for the new Dock Maarten expansion was relatively unscathed, only losing some top soil.

Manager at Aquamania Garth Steyn called the aftermath "unbelievable" devastation. He described six or seven damaged boats near the Red Cross, four or five more in the shipyard nearby. Aquamania experienced one damaged boat and lost wood on its dock, which he called "relatively good" given the circumstance. He added that some of the yachts recorded up to 99 knots of wind during the hurricane, the maximum measurement.

No one reported missing

Thode said "one or two" flares were shot from vessels in the Great Bay area during the peak of the storm; however, he could not say whether any persons from boats were missing.

Chief of Police Peter de Witte said no one was reported missing to authorities on Tuesday, while Curacao-based Dutch Caribbean Coastguard Public Relations Officer (PRO) Roderick Gouverneur said there were no official reports of missing persons at sea in Dutch St. Maarten. Up to late last night, one person was reported missing in French St. Martin and one in St. Barths (see related story).

"The Coast Guard responded to different calls that came in during the hurricane. From last night [Monday night – Ed.] around 10:00, we were working straight the entire night until this morning and we continue today [Tuesday – Ed] during the day time," Thode told The Daily Herald. "We responded to different emergency calls as soon as the wind died down a little bit. We put two boats in the water to respond to the calls that had come in.

"Most of the boats that are destroyed are completely under water, we cannot even see registration. Some of them can only see the mast out of the water. Nothing else," said Thode.

"We got some calls when the hurricane was blazing, but we could not go out during the storm. But, as soon as it was okay we went out. People have to realise that the Coast Guard and every other department that give service to the community are also human beings and when there is a storm and a hurricane warning they have to take precautions because they cannot expect that when the storm is blazing and get to 120 miles per hour that we can put down a boat in the water – that is impossible," said Thode.

"People have to know that they are personally responsible for their own safety and after we come into the picture to help them and reassure them that they are safe, but we are talking about Mother Nature and this is unpredictable. When we are dealing with a catastrophe of this magnitude when it concerns Mother Nature we have to check and deal with safety."

Regarding the flares, Thode said one of the vessels that shot a flare had run aground and everyone on board were safe. "We expected a storm, but got blessed with a hurricane. It was still a catastrophe, no one expected it."

During the course of Tuesday, the Coast Guard had been busy assessing the damage, doing a count of the destroyed vessels and assisting persons who had issues with their boats in whatever way they could. "We checked on people whose boat sank; we tried to help them and give advice on how to salvage their boats; we helped people whose boats were taking in water to pump the water out and helped others to patch their damage. We also helped marinas to help get debris out of boats."

Thode said although many Coast Guard officers had suffered damage to their homes, personal belonging and had family members who were affected by the hurricane; they still went out to work in numbers to help others recover from the storm. He was very proud of the workers for this show of unselfishness. "We got people to work in a jiffy and they worked all night and went into the water as soon as the wind went down although communication was limited," he said.

No Daily Herald on Tuesday October 14, 2014

St. Maarten’s Office of Disaster Management (DMO) advised (see below)  to close businesses at 12pm and have everyone off the road by 4pm. Under  the circumstances it is not possible to publish The Daily (or Miami) Herald on Tuesday, October 14 either. The next, extra big papers will appear on Wednesday, October 15. Management apologizes for the inconvenience and reminds our readers to stay safe.

 The Publisher

News Release

 Department of Communication (DCOMM), Philipsburg, Sint Maarten W.I. Tel. +1 721 543-1162, 542-4119, Fax: 543-1169; Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Website: www.sintmaartengov.org

For Immediate Release: Monday, October 13, 2014/N171-9.20AM

ODM: TS Gonzalo Strengthens Further; Businesses advised to close at 12.00PM; Residents urged to complete storm preparations before nightfall; Country under a Tropical Storm Warning

GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – The Department of Disaster Management (ODM) advises businesses to close their operations at 12.00PM today Monday and allow their employees to go home in order to complete storm preparations. 

Businesses should also use the opportunity to secure their premises.  Anything that could blow away should be secured eg. yard furniture, plastic containers, garbage bins should be brought indoors etc.

Weather conditions are forecasted to further deteriorate this afternoon as Tropical Storm Gonzalo approaches our area.

Motorists are advised to avoid using the public road network as of 4.00PM Monday.  This is for your own safety.

 Tropical Storm Gonzalo at 5.00AM was located 165 miles south east of Sint Maarten.  The storm has also strengthened with 60 mile per hour winds and higher gusts, and further strengthening is forecasted during the next 48 hours and could become a hurricane Tuesday morning.

The country is under a Tropical Storm Warning. Gonzalo has started to move through the Leeward Islands Monday morning and is in the vicinity of Antigua & Barbuda.

 Tropical storm conditions are expected according to the MDS to reach Leeward Islands/Sint Maarten late Monday afternoon and evening; expected rainfall between four to eight inches with isolate maximum totals of 12 inches.

 A heavy rainfall advisory and a flood warning are in effect for the country as well as a rough sea advisory.

 Under a Tropical Storm Warning; the warning means that there could be sustained wind speeds of between 39 and 73 miles per hour within 24 to 36 hours or less.  Any preparedness measures should be completed as soon as possible under such a warning.

Contractors should secure construction and building sites.

 For weather updates visit the site of MDS at: www.meteosxm.com

ODM will continue to monitor the progress of the storm.  Additional updates will be provided.

No The Daily Herald due to Storm Warning

page1a125SXM is under Tropical Storm Watch, with Gonzalo (wind now 40mph) expected to strengthen before is passes close by south early Monday. To safeguard our employees who work at night and especially including those who have to go on the street to distribute the paper in the morning, management has decided not to publish The Daily (or Miami) Herald on Monday, October 13 and instead bring out a bigger paper on Tuesday with a combined content. The office will open normally on Monday as soon as it’s considered safe outside.

Audit Chamber sees limited progress at Tax Department

PHILIPSBURG--The General Audit Chamber presented the report of the performance audit "Optimising Tax Revenue" to Parliament on Friday.

The audit was carried out to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the reform of fiscal system and tax revenue compliance.

In carrying out the review, the General Audit Chamber sought to determine the extent to which the minister of finance was able to effectively and efficiently optimise tax revenue. The result of the audit contributes to the social significance of a fair and balanced tax system and the importance of having a professional, customer-focused and impartial tax authority.

The 2011, 2012 and 2013 budgets contain policy objectives for optimising the tax system by means of improving the process of assessment and collection, harmonizing the tax system with French St. Martin and eliminating free-riders, the Audit Chamber said in a press release.

The General Audit Chamber said a large discrepancy existed between the content of approved budgets and the practical reality at the Tax Department and Fiscal Affairs. Activities related to optimising tax revenue included improving the assessment and collection of taxes through simplification of the tax system. Progress was found to be limited, despite substantial use of external experts and the establishment and equipping of a number of working groups, the Audit Chamber said.

Efforts to reduce the cost associated with assessment and collection were also not very successful. In 2011, the operational cost related to assessment and collection was 2.7 per cent and in 2013, the percentage was 3.5.

Scientifically derived data related to compliance was not available from government, though estimates provided in approved budget documents range from 30-40 per cent in 2011, to 40-60 per cent in 2013. Adequate research is needed to determine the extent of compliance in St. Maarten, the Chamber said.

Planned upgrading of the Tax Department, including integrating the services of the various departments (Inspectorate and Receiver, for example), has not taken place. Based on approved policy, the minister also wanted to optimise tax revenue by harmonising the tax system with French St. Martin. The various meetings and negotiations in preparation for the harmonisation have not yet taken place. It is still not clear whether the required cooperation with the French is achievable, the Audit Chamber said in the release.

The General Audit Chamber made several recommendations to the finance minister in its report including reiterating the need to use policy-based budgets that are executed based on specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic, time-related and consistent norms. It said the minister of finance should periodically give account to Parliament with regard to the realisation of approved and intended policy.

"The General Audit Chamber endorses the point of departure contained in the yet-to-be approved Plan of Action for the integration and strengthening of the Tax Department of St. Maarten. That plan requires that the organisational reform of the Tax Department, specifically the integration of and renewal of ICT [Information Communication Technology – Ed.] systems and housing of the department in a single location is given precedence. After these fundamental requirements are achieved, reform or simplification of the tax system can be addressed successfully."

The General Audit Chamber reiterated the need for drafting additional rules regarding the execution and tendering procedures. These additional rules, as required by article 47 of the National Financial Accounting Ordinance, will guarantee that procurement of goods and services is carried out in a more transparent, objective and non-discriminatory fashion.

The Optimising Tax Revenue report is published in English and Dutch and is available on the website of the General Audit Chamber at:

www.arsxm.org .

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