It became clear that I had made the best choices for my own survival. Shrimpy’s is a sturdy building with a flat solid roof. The people that were there became a top notch team for enabling survival and recovery. “The A Team” Lucy called it. The damage to Shrimpy’s was minimal. Other buildings didn’t fare so well. Reports came in that some of the big hotels had collapsed onto the people sheltering within. It was the flooding that gave the biggest problem at Shrimpy’s. The sea had caused minor damage and contaminated the drinking water in the cisterns underground.
Calculations determined that, by salvaging the tap water we had saved for flushing the toilets and bailing sea water instead, we had enough to drink for two weeks with the eight of us there, which instantly halved as another ten people returned from hurricane shelters and damaged vessels. Ben devised a rainwater collection system comprising barrels, pipes and guttering ready for Hurricane Jose tomorrow. The latest news was that Jose was deviating from Irma’s path tracking north of St Martin: more rain, less wind. ideal for what we wanted. Jose could become a blessing rather than a curse. St Martin is a dry island with no rivers or streams.
Jaco and his family joined us. Jaco and his wife, Judith, run Atlantech Divers and brought valuable knowledge and experience of the lagoon and what was happening at Sandy Ground, an area of St Martin notoriously vulnerable to violence and crime. We were more organised and prepared than many of the locals and people started coming to the door to ask for water and fuel. The looters had focused on high-value goods to start with but were beginning to focus on food and water as hunger set in. Looters is an unfair term in the case of food and water since this is for basic survival. A truck was seen carrying away six brand new washing machines from a damaged store. the motivation for that is different to carrying away food and water from a supermarket. We were doing fine, at Shrimpy’s, but what would we do if others became desperate and knew that we had a stock of food and water?
Without Glee, all I had to do was live in the moment and help out as best I could. My life was not my own at this point but, apart from pangs of ‘survivor guilt’ this felt good: unburdened, I had all I needed. Every day trivialities were blown away by Irma and a community evolved out of the wreckage. We were focusing on life and survival without even thinking about it. It felt natural; almost tribal. we were looking after ourselves as well as the group. This is what the State constantly promises but fails to deliver.
With so many people here, my new bed was a foam pad on the laundry floor, tucked behind the counter near the machines to maintain a modicum of privacy. I wasn’t sleeping very well but still feeling grateful for being where I was. It was hot in the day and warm at night. The brackish water in the cisterns was good enough for a daily shower and we still had enough petrol to run the generators a couple of hours a day to cool the freezers and pump the water to the bathroom.
We were four days in by now. The Gendarmes were enforcing a curfew but there were no signs of relief activity from the government. Water and fuel were scarce. Anyone relying on government to solve their problems was endangering their lives. The relief would be coming from good-hearted people, not the bureaucrats that feed off the populace.
Law enforcement was understandably over-stretched and the criminals had the upper hand, looting and robbing with impunity.
We managed to salvage Jaco’s outboard from Grand Key (Explorer Island) just in time by the looks of it. The hoses had been cut in preparation by looters who would return with the tools to remove it. We abandoned the dinghy it was attached to, for the time being, maybe forever. Jaco depended on his outboard for his business, what looks like just a boat engine to most of us was a hugely expensive lifeline for Jaco and his family.
On the way back, we called by Kochi, beached on Sandy Ground, to see if Carl was still there – we had heard him on the VHF but his catamaran looked like an abandoned shed. Carl emerged as we approached, clearly pleased to see a friendly face. He was aware of the marauding looters but had been so far overlooked. Carl was preparing his dinghy for water collection from the oncoming hurricane Jose.
Carl was a neighbour of mine in Providence Bay. Irma dragged him and his mooring block south under the causeway bridge to rest near the coast guard at Simpson Bay. Their astounding advice, considering the number of inverted catamarans, was to stay aboard. The back half of the Irma dragged him north, back under the causeway, eventually coming to rest ashore at Sandy Ground, the right way up.
Returning to Shrimpy’s, the latest news was that hurricane Jose was moving further north away from its track to St Martin. We wanted the rain but not the wind and, in the end, we collected around 600 litres from Jose. the storm was short and sweet with hardly any wind as Jose wandered north into the Atlantic.
So far, I had been confined to Rue De Morne Ronde and Time Out Boat Yard area. Andy was on a mission to find more petrol for the generator so I hopped on the back of the quad to assist. The ride was like something out of a “Mad Max” movie, the road was covered by sand, boats parked at the roadside, houses reduced to match-wood. Seeing all this made me appreciate my luck in staying at Shrimpy’s. People were on the streets salvaging what they could. The gendarmes were posted at strategic points to enforce the 1pm curfew, and so we were turned back empty-handed ‘tout de suite.’ The rest of the afternoon was spent washing sand out of the store room and general cleaning up. A period of solitude away from the bickering and frustration being expressed as the strain was beginning to show with people living in close quarters.
Sunday morning came, what was it, five days since Irma? it was hard tracking the days as they slid into one another, and I lay on the pad on the laundry floor as long as possible while people gathered at the start of another day. Andy fired up the quad and we went toward Grand Case searching for petrol. Rounding a corner revealed a 400 metre line of traffic leading to the fuel station. Andy pulled up at the back of the line while I walked toward the station. Talking to the locals, I found out the station was to open at 2pm, six hours from now. Pedestrians with jerry cans were gathered at the station in front of the traffic line. Six hours… we would come back later.
Arriving back at Shrimpy’s. Valerie, a slim dark-haired French woman, arrived and announced that people were being evacuated from Grand Case and if we wanted to go we needed to put our names on the list she held in her hand, and to be ready to leave right now. This was a paradigm shift since I expected to be stranded for weeks committed to help Mike and Sally at Shrimpy’s. Lucy made the point that while we stay, we are using up resources, even though we were all contributing our efforts, this needed to be balanced. Ben was here and committed to his boat. Jaco and his family had nowhere else to go. Mike and Sally were in good hands and Shrimpy’s was in pretty good shape.
Glee had not been found, I had nothing here and felt a need to return to the UK. I was packed within two minutes and explained to Mike what I was doing. I felt bad about that but he told me “You must do what you must do.”
Within an hour or two, eight of us from Shrimpy’s were on a minibus headed to Grand Case airport not knowing our destination, only that we were heading out of St Martin. The ATR 72 on the runway suggested we were on a short hop, not a long distance plane by any stretch. Guadeloupe or Martinique was my guess since they are the nearest French Islands out of the way of Irma’s footprint…