Hurricane Irma rampaged over the Caribbean on 6 September, causing massive damage. Sint Maarten, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was one of the affected countries. Michelle Boonstra had just left the island to go to Wageningen. She is worried about the future of the island – and her parents’ business.
One of the damaged boats of Michelle Boonstra’s parents’ snorkelling company.
‘My father was still with me in the Netherlands when we realized how big and how disastrous this hurricane was going to be. He had to rush back to Sint Maarten to get the house storm-ready, because my father is the handyman at home. My mother was very worried because she experienced hurricane Luis in 1995. That was comparable with Irma. When hurricane Irma reached the island we had contact, until the eye was above the island. Luckily I got brief contact again relatively fast, after 12 hours. Then I knew they were OK, so I was very lucky. Nevertheless, the days that followed were very stressful because there was a lot of plundering.
The situation was very stressful for me personally. I got a lot of support from people in the Netherlands, but I sometimes felt they couldn’t really understand. The images everyone saw of the devastated island were of familiar to me as the place where I grew up and where I lived until very recently. You can only understand what that means if you go through it yourself. Luckily I am also in touch with friends from my secondary school who are in the same boat.
I expect it to take years for the economy of Sint Maarten, which is 85 percent reliant on tourism, to recover. A lot of hotels are damaged, of course, and the island no longer looks so attractive. And the coral around the island has been partially destroyed, which is extra damaging for my family’s snorkelling company. The business was already affected because numerous boats are badly damaged. It is doubtful whether my parents will be able to carry on with the business.’