Surviving Hurricane Irma Rebuilding a Family’s Life… What It’s Really Like
Axxess Marine’s new interview series shares the courageous stories of our workmates, colleagues and friends who faced the storm, lost everything and are coming back STRONGER.
An Interview with Tricia Roberts Greenaway, Caribbean Office Manager, Axxess Marine SXM
Eight months ago, you and your family came face to face with Hurricane Irma. Looking back what do you most remember about preparing for the storm to hit?
I remember frantically looking for a safe hotel the day before as I wasn’t sure how sturdy or safe my home was. When we realized every hotel was fully booked, we bought as much food stuff as we could, filled our car tanks with gas, boarded up windows and hunkered down in preparation for the worst.
What was the most surprising part of the storm for you?
The severity of the wind when the eye was near. I experienced hurricane Luis in 1995 so I thought I was prepared for what was to come, I was sadly mistaken. I was surprised at how strong and nasty mother nature could get. At one point at its worst, I looked out a window as my shutter blew off and all I saw was white outside, just cyclones of wind, rain, gusts…a sight that will forever live in my memory.
What was the scariest thing that happened?
My family consists of my husband, my 11 year-old daughter, two year old twins and myself. When the entire roof of our home ripped right off while we were all in the house it was THE scariest, most terrifying moment of my entire life. I never thought the sound of a roof tearing off of your home would sound like a bomb but that’s exactly what it sounded like, an explosion. When it happened rain and wind was pouring in, and we literally thought we were going to die in there.
What was the impact of the storm on you and your family?
Eight months later we are still in the state of re-building our home. When people ask: What happened to your home? I say the roof blew off, but do people really understand what that means? It means with the roof gone, all furniture was destroyed, the tiling is destroyed, the closets, the cupboards, clothes; you name it…they’re all gone. The wind and the rain destroyed everything. It was several weeks before we could even get a tarpaulin to cover the roof again but by then it was too late.
What is it like living in SXM after the storm? And how has it been for your family to live in SXM while it is rebuilding?
It was especially difficult being here after the storm with the kids. There was a barrage of mosquitos, wasps, bees constantly attacking us for weeks after the storm. I remember some nights my husband would take the kids to the truck and turn on the air conditioning as long as he could to save them from the mosquitos and the heat. Even that was difficult as we had to preserve fuel because so many gas stations were shut down or destroyed and we could not replenish the fuel. There was no water and electricity for weeks. Food was rare and even if hurricane relief came to the island, the lines to get the relief were extremely long in the hot sun and the relief ration was very little. The next scariest moment in life is when you realize no matter how much money you may or may not have, it can’t help you feed your kids. There is simply no food. Rationing is a necessity for survival.
What kinds of things have you and your family had to do in order to rebuild your life in SXM?
My husband has become almost non-existent in our lives. He is a container truck driver and has been in high demand as businesses rebuild and recover. He tries his best to keep up work and find time to spend time with the kids. The extra income he makes with overtime is a big help with the rebuilding costs of our house, but the trade-off is that he is rarely home.
What are you most concerned about for SXM today?
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones to be honest. Yes, our home is destroyed, and we currently live in a tiny apartment with three kids while my home is being rebuilt, but I have my job and so does my husband. I’m lucky because our home was insured. Granted insurance does not cover all our losses but it’s a huge help. Hundreds of people on this island did not have insurance, so they lost their homes entirely. People have lost their jobs, their vehicles, and people have even lost their lives. There are so many people still displaced with no home, car or job and still struggling even now, eight months later. It’s imperative that the government stay on top of the economy and the needs of the people or things could get much worse.
It’s very frightening to think that hurricane season begins again next month.
What are you most thankful for that your community is building or rebuilding?
I’m thankful for every single rebuild on this island to be honest. St. Maarten, I think, was in its prime just before the hurricane; it never looked more developed, more beautiful, more vibrant, teeming with nightlife and you name it. I think it’s come a long way in trying to get back what was lost. With each rebuild my heart smiles, as I see little by little my little island paradise is regaining, getting better and best of all…stronger.
Are there positive things happening on the island now on that you think more people need to know about?
We are a resilient people…we survived Irma. You talk to anyone who has experienced what we have experienced, and they will tell you a scary story, but they will tell you how strong we were; how strong we ARE. We’ve survived and come out stronger when it comes to our buildings and our personal well-being.
The beaches show the same commitment, they were horrible after the storm, but they’ve all recovered and are as beautiful as they were. To regain a sense of normalcy, the schools opened up several weeks after the storm. So did many restaurants, and to date almost all have repaired and re-opened. The same goes for bars, night clubs you name it, all fighting to get back to what St Maarten was. The hotels are still in a state of re-build and to sum it up… St. Maarten is still that island paradise to come enjoy, relax, have fun. There are just a few minor differences that can be easily overlooked.
Did the storm change the way you look at your life now?
Yes, it’s shown me that family is EVERYTHING. No matter what material items are lost along the way in life, once you have your family and they are safe, that is the most IMPORTANT thing there is in life. Family is golden, priceless…irreplaceable.
In light of all that has happened, what are you proudest of?
I’m proud of myself. In the weeks following the hurricane when there was no home, food, water, electricity, gas…all the things you need in life to survive and be comfortable. All I wanted to do was to take my kids and run. Run far away from this island and find a place where my kids can be happy and properly fed. But I stayed, we stayed, and I fought for the insurance money I needed for our home, so we could have a strong future. I fought with several contractors on pricing to get the house rebuilt as it seemed most were out for monetary gain. I fought so my family would not go hungry. I fought, and we won. We are still here today, standing strong because we did not run, we stood our ground and we made it…and I am so proud of that.
What would you say to others who are still rebuilding their lives post Hurricane Irma or other devastating incidents?
Stay strong, have patience…lots and lots of it. Never give up the fight. Once you have life there is a will, and once there is a will there is a way. Stand up look for solutions, as every problem in life has a solution; it’s your job to find it. Never give up even when the road seems tough and long, hang in there. And if you ever feel like giving up, please know God is always there as your shoulder to lean on. It worked for me and it will work for you too. God is an AWESOME God.
For more information on visiting St. Maarten, visit https://www.st-maarten.com/
For more information on the rebuilding efforts in St. Maarten, you can follow “Rebuild St Maarten” on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/RebuildStMaarten/ Many travel websites and local hotels have updates on the recovery efforts as well.