MARIGOT–Préfète Déléguée Anne Laubies disclosed 57 civil security reinforcements arrived Monday afternoon on the Air France flight and will be in position to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
The reinforcements were arranged in cooperation with the Préfet of Guadeloupe and the Ministry of the Interior. The group is specialized in working in disaster zones, and has brought equipment and search dogs. Some 47 will be working in St. Martin and 10 in St. Barths.
In addition, more firemen have been brought in, 10 for St. Martin and 4 for St. Barths as well as three fire officers. Some 30 military personnel and equipment have also arrived from Martinique and French Guiana. A helicopter has also been requested and more equipment.
With regard to health risks and injuries sustained during a hurricane, two mobile hospitals have been brought in from the Regional Health Authority of Martinique with seven medical staff to administer first aid or treating of light injuries. It was not clear where these mobile hospitals would be located in St. Martin. The intention is to put one in St. Barths as well, however, access to St. Barths is difficult by boat without the Voyager ferries in operation. Up to now, the Dutch-side charter ferries have been used.
Laubies said the reinforcements were “absolutely indispensable.” The ferry service to and from Anguilla will be stopped so those vessels can be secured and protected, she added. The ports and airports in St. Martin and St. Barths will be closed at the appropriate times. Private light aircraft parked at both airports need to be secured or removed.
French St. Martin is currently in the “orange” alert phase and this is due to change to the “red” alert phase today, Tuesday, at midday. Once in the “grey” phase, meaning the hurricane has passed, the priority will be to get the road network cleared, the airport opened, and infrastructure restored, Laubies stated.
There should not be too much of a problem with electricity supply, she continued. Potable water, however, will be cut off from midday Tuesday or before, when the sea state starts to become more agitated, to protect the intake pipes of the water desalination plant, so they do not get blocked with weed and debris. Once the hurricane has passed and seas subsided the plant can be started up again on Thursday, hopefully with no problems.
The Préfète did not hide her concern that restoring internet and communications could be “complicated and difficult” if winds are stronger than forecast.
“Pylons are programmed to withstand 150k wind speed, but we may well be above that. If Pic Paradis (antenna) falls or equipment is damaged there, we will be going back to analog from digital. Back to land lines, no mobile phone service, and no radio. Look in your houses for old phones. We might be able to get a local network going.
The last point the Préfète brought up at the press conference was the “very serious and dangerous” risk to human life from flooding. She talked of a “triple effect” from an already high sea, storm surge producing waves of 8 to 10 metres high, and rain.
It was calculated that 11,000 persons out of 40,000 are living in flood-risk zones. These areas include some parts of Marigot, Grand Case, Sandy Ground, Baie Nettle, Cul de Sac, Orient Bay, and French Quarter. There is no mandatory evacuation procedure in place, but persons in these areas are urged to move in with family or friends because the official shelters can only accommodate 400 persons in total.