By Robert Luckock
MARIGOT–Acts of exceptional bravery during disasters, man-made or natural, are often reported in the national media highlighting individuals who put their lives on the line to help others. Who knows what girds an individual to suddenly spring into action, with complete disregard for their own safety?
Hurricane Irma undoubtedly produced a few selfless heroes in St. Maarten, some credited, some uncredited. Stories of heroism on the French side during Irma haven’t readily come to the attention of the local media. That is, until now.
Thanks to singer Lydia Lawrence, whose mother lives in Around the Pond, French Quarter, The Daily Herald learnt about Marc Lake (36), a volunteer fireman with two young children who rescued 11 people from certain drowning during Irma and treated countless more people with first aid.
Lydia returns to France on November 22 and saw it fit to present Lake with a trophy on Saturday before leaving for France, a gesture of appreciation for Lake’s incredible life-saving acts.
Today, 2½ months after Irma, Around the Pond is once again a peaceful neighbourhood. Sleeping dogs lie on the side of the road, children are on bikes, people in their houses tend to their affairs and the occasional car passes.
Looking along an empty, clear road, there are few signs, except for a destroyed building here and here, that a disaster ever took place here. The only change noticeable is a view of the pond between the houses that was not visible before. Trees and bushes have all been uprooted.
What took place on September 6 is beyond imagination. From Marc Lake’s account, it would be no exaggeration to say a tsunami driven by the hurricane swept through Around the Pond, engulfing all the houses bordering on the pond. Even before Irma arrived, Marc had a sense of how bad it was going to be. He and others went door-to-door urging people in the waterfront houses to evacuate and go to shelters.
“But some didn’t want to leave, saying they got through Hurricane Luis safely and this would be the same,” he said. “After that I had an idea of who was left in the houses and who had moved out. I told my job that I would stay home, knowing that there were still people in the houses who might need to be rescued. My house is on the other side of the road where I could see the houses on the water side in front of me. The idea was that if anyone was in trouble they would signal me with their flashlight.”
As the water level from the ocean and pond continued to rise during the storm, Marc moved his family and mother to the highest floor of the house, after blocking doors and windows to try to keep water out. It was somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00am.
“The smaller houses on the waterfront were already nearly submerged and the road turned into a raging river, full of debris. Cars were lifted up and sent into the pond, along with everything else that floated away,” he related. “Everything was under deep water.
“That was when I heard cries of ‘Help!.’ There were 11 people standing on the flat roof of the house in front of me. I myself was traumatised and frightened, but I had to do something. I put on a snorkelling mask and dove down under the water to find some rope which I then suspended from my house to the house on the other side to hold on to, to prevent the water taking me down.
“I realised I could move the stranded people from that roof onto the higher roof next door and from there to the next building. But I had to swim back to find a sheet of wood. I found the wood and swam back to the house again with it. I used it to make a bridge and then helped them to crawl from one roof to the other to safety, holding the wood down all the time. When I was in the water I couldn’t see anything. … I had to dodge zinc and trash coming at me all the time.”
Farther down the road Marc helped a man and his two daughters to safety.
“Every time I tried to get to them a wave would toss me back onto the other side. It just exhausted me. Finally, I was able to get a rope around the three of them with the help of a neighbour and we let the waves push us to the safety of a house. One of the girls was a diabetic and having a seizure. There was no medication, as everything had been swept away. I found some biscuits and a Sprite so she could get some sugar.”
Marc helped more people to safety farther down the road and had the grim task of removing some dead bodies and notifying the authorities. After the storm passed he continued to work on just three hours’ sleep, administering basic first aid, going house-to-house, before emergency responders arrived.
“That helped to prevent a big flow of people going to the hospital,” he noted. “I was able to get medications from the hospital and bring them back. The nurses appreciated that. I did what I could.”
Marc estimated the height of the water in Around the Pond at the height of the storm was between eight and 12 feet with waves cresting at 15 feet. Many animals, horses included, died from being swept away in the torrent of water. He said two chalets from Club Orient had landed in Around the Pond, as did a security hut from Le Galion, and a container from the Windy Reef windsurf school at Le Galion ended up in the pond.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/71086-marc-lake-unsung-hero-of-around-the-pond-fq