Good day to the people of St. Maarten, I hereby address you as Deputy Prime Minister in a special national briefing for today, Friday, August 21, 2020, as part of the process to keep the community of St. Maarten informed about the latest developments in regard to Tropical Storm Laura.Tropical Depression #13 was upgraded earlier this morning to Tropical Storm Laura. Based on this and other developments, a Tropical Storm Warning is now in effect for St. Maarten. This means that tropical storm conditions can be expected within the warning area within the next 36 hours. Laura is now moving towards the West at 18 miles per hour. Previously, it was moving on a north westerly track which would have had it passing over 50 miles from St. Maarten. Tropical storm force winds extend 150 miles outward from the center of the system. As of 11:00 AM this morning, Tropical Storm Laura was 210 miles east southeast of St. Maarten. Laura, based on the 11:00 AM available forecast and information, will now pass 35 miles to the south of St. Maarten late tonight. Due to these latest changes with this weather system, the following has been forecasted by our Meteorological Department as of 11.30AM: RAINFALL: Laura could produce up to 4 inches of rainfall through Sunday over the local area. Shower activity associated with rain bands from Laura is already affecting St. Maarten. Moderate to heavy showers accompanied by thunderstorms are expected to continue and intensify as the day progresses with most intense showers expected this evening through Saturday morning. This rainfall will result in flooding or flash flooding in low-lying areas and rock falls along hillsides, especially in areas that are already saturated. Motorists should therefore refrain from venturing out after heavy rainfall until an assessment has been made by the relevant authorities such as the Ministry of VROMI and until clean-up crews have been able to remove any obstructions along the public roads. WIND: Storm force winds of 45 mph with higher gusts are expected across the local area from this afternoon through Saturday morning. Storm force winds could result in the breaking of tree branches, signs and blowing down unsecured structures. SEAS: Sea conditions will continue to deteriorate today peaking near 10 feet overnight. Residents living along the coast should take measures to secure outdoor furniture. A small craft warning is in effect for St. Maarten. Small craft operators and swimmers should stay out of the water until the all clear is given. Based on the aforementioned, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) met at midday to re-assess the situation and have taken the following decisions. Government services such as the Simpson Bay Public Service Center and other government departments outside the Government Administration Building with the exception of the emergency services, have been closed at 2:00 PM. It is recommended to the business community, to allow employees to leave to go home at 4:00 PM. Due to the anticipated rainfall and possibilities of flash floods, all motorists should be off the road by 6:00 PM / 7:00 PM. An assessment will be made regarding the situation on Saturday and this will be communicated early via the various Government communication channels such as Radio and Facebook. The John Larmonie Center which is a designated storm shelter, has openned at 2:00 PM only for emergency cases. Persons who feel that their current home is compromised, can make use of the shelter. The person must bring along their own toiletries, food, water etc. and must strictly adhere to COVID-19 preventative measures while staying at the shelter. Those who make use of the shelter will be allowed to stay until the storm has passed and the shelter will be closed thereafter. I call on all residents to prepare for tropical storm conditions and to adhere to the aforementioned recommendations and advice. The relevant Government departments will continue to keep the general-public informed as additional information becomes available. Continue to monitor the Government Radio station – 107.9FM – for official information and news before, during, and after the passing of the storm, and visit Facebook.com/SXMGOV. For official weather-related information, check out the website of the Meteorological Department of St. Maarten (MDS): www.meteosxm.com May you and your family be safe during the passing of Tropical Storm Laura. God bless the people of St. Maarten. Thank you!