I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so for over 20 years I was used to ‘Hurricane Season’ beginning in September. I was there during hurricanes that caused significant damage and loss of lives, like Hugo in 1989, Hortencia in 1996, and Georges in 1998. Of these Hugo was a strong category 4, Georges just under a 4. But when reports of Irma kept coming, it was evident that this storm system was different. The phrase Freak of Nature took true meaning, as my family was expecting to live through the worst storm to hit the Caribbean at least since 1928, but likely ever.
Fortunately for Puerto Ricans, just before it clipped Puerto Rico’s northeastern coast, Irma curved up just enough that the registered damages were at the worst those caused by a Category 2 hurricane, which is nothing extraordinary for the islanders. Of course, by the time the storm changed course, islands like St. Maarten, Barbuda, and St. John among others, were not that fortunate and took a direct hit. Photos emerged of the damage in these islands.
A friend that works with United shared with me the following video of Orlando and Ana, United Operations Manager in Puerto Rico and Division GM, respectively, who flew to St. Maarten to assess damage of United property and gate areas there. They chartered a Seaborne Airlines plane out of Puerto Rico for this purpose. You can see how badly the storm hit. The beloved SXM Princess Juliana airport is in very bad shape, including United’s ticketing and departure areas. As you can imagine, tourism is the main source of income for these tiny islands in the Caribbean, so a fully functional airport is paramount. Hopefully the recovery is a quick one.
But what these United representatives did before leaving the island and why is perhaps the real story. As they were about to board their plane back to Puerto Rico, a group of American tourists who were in the area around the airport and saw the plane, begged for a ride out of the island. After explaining their situation, the United reps did their due diligence and received clearance from Seaborne Airlines, and ferried the US citizens out of the island and into safety in Puerto Rico. Yes, safety. Though the hurricane had already passed, people in the island are not safe and the folks in the video explain why. Allegedly, inmates have escaped prison and dressed up in law enforcement uniforms, and have become a militia of sorts wreaking havoc and creating fear among those in the island. I had already read reports of lawlessness, but in my opinion what these people are describing is much more serious than previously reported. More news articles with additional details have surfaced since. I hope that the situation down there can be quickly contained so the rebuilding process can begin. A big kudos to the United employees who did the right thing taking these people out of a dangerous situation, though they were in no obligation to do so.
This next video of them taking off shows the extent of damages around the airport.
I had been holding on to these for 2 days ensuring that I have permission to post the videos, but since then the State Department issued the following alert to US citizens in St. Maarten:
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) September 12, 2017