GREAT BAY – “Today is exactly 22 years ago that Hurricane Luis hit St. Maarten and left a trail of destruction in its wake,” Prime Minister William Marlin said in his hurricane address on Tuesday afternoon. “Normally on a day like this we would reflect on how this storm changed our lives. But today is not a normal day. In a matter of hours we are expecting another monster storm.”
“While the lessons from Luis may give us some level of comfort to face the dangers Irma poses, I want to assure each and everyone of you that the most important thing we must safeguard is life itself. By now you should have completed all the necessary preparations, including taking care of your pets.
“Irma is a very serious hurricane and by now it is a category 5 storm. Comparisons with Luis may pale, given Irma’s trajectory and the prevailing weather conditions.
“The true character of a people is revealed in how they face disaster and confront adversity. We have been down this road before and we have shown that we are a resilient people. Despite our differences we come together in moments like this to overcome any challenge that may test our resolve.
“I call on you today to show once more what we are made off as a people. We need to look out for our family members, our friends and our neighbors. Not after the passing of the storm, but even before it passes through here. We have to show that we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.”
Marlin said that the Emergency Operations Center had decided to open seven hurricane shelters Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m.: the New Testament Baptist Church (Philipsburg), the Sr. Marie Laurence School (Middle Region), the Belvedere Community Center, the Dutch Quarter Community Center, the Rupert I. Maynard Youth community Center (St. Peters, South Reward), the National Institute for Professional Advancement, Nipa (Cay Hill), Christian Fellowship Church (Simpson Bay, opposite Pineapple Pete).
The shelters are for residents who are unable to find a safe place with family our friends. The marines will manage the shelters during the hurricane and local staff will take over when the weather has calmed down.
Curfew went into effect Tuesday at 6 p.m. Marlin said that the storm could clock an unprecedented 200 miles (322 kilometers) per hour wind speeds when it makes landfall. It is mandatory to stay inside until the curfew has been lifted.
Nobody should be on the road during the curfew, Marlin emphasized.
The Emergency Operations Center has planned a meriting for Thursday morning 9 a.m. to assess the damages and to decide about the way forward.
Marlin warned against “disaster tourism” for the sake of seeing what is happening outside.
A company of some 100 Dutch marines have been mobilized to assist police, fire department, ambulance, public works, and other first responders.
Government offices closed on Tuesday until further notice. Emergency services will continue to operate as normal. People who require emergency service are advised to call 911.
All business closed Tuesday at noon, while supermarkets, hardware stores, restaurants, pharmacies, gas stations and bakeries were allowed to remain open until 3p.m. restaurants on hotel properties were allowed to remain open that time.
“Government has done all that it can to prepare for this hurricane,” Marlin said. “I hope that you have done the same as well. The Pond has been drained to minimize potential flooding of the Philipsburg area. Don’t be alarmed if you see or smell some dead fish as a result of this.
“Many of you may not have experienced a hurricane before. It is never a good experience. I urge you to be as calm as possible.
“It is also very important that you refrain from rumor-mongering and disseminating fake news. Stay tuned to the radio stations, especially the government radio station – 107.9 FM –for accurate information and official announcements.
“Rumors or any other form of misinformation can cause as much damage as the hurricane itself. So, please do not share news from unreliable and unofficial sources on social media, no matter how tempting this may be.
“Fellow St. Maarteners, residents and visitors of our beloved island, as we brace ourselves for this powerful hurricane, I join those of you who have begun praying in asking our good Lord to have mercy on our island and deliver us from this imminent danger.
“I pray that the same God who spoke to the storm to calm it down will do the same to Hurricane Irma.
“Be strong. Be courageous. And above all, be safe. We are in this together and together, by the grace of God, we shall overcome. As they say, this, too, shall pass.”