Category 5 Hurricane Irma ravaged the island of Saint Martin in September 2017, destroying about one third of all buildings. Today, the resilient island has rebuilt much of what was lost, and is welcoming tourists once again.
Two years after tragedy hit, the half-Dutch, half-French island of Saint Martin is overflowing with life, fun, and the amicable spirit that has earned this Caribbean country the nickname “the friendly island.”
However, rebuilding the infrastructure of a country that relies on tourism was no easy task. Hundreds of hotels and resorts had been laid waste by Irma’s fury. Private homes and small restaurants were wrecked by the thousands, and debris lined the streets. No tourist would want to visit an island in that condition, so Saint Martin’s leaders knew they would have to rebuild fast in order to keep the country’s main source of income alive.
The devastation of Hurricane Irma
Saint Martin was one of the worst-affected islands in the deadly hurricane’s path. About 90 percent of buildings were damaged in some way, and there were at least 14 fatalities. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the storm caused “enormous devastation” and total damage reached almost US$3 billion.
Winds of up to 180 mph pummeled the island’s coastline, toppling buildings and stacking cars like LEGO blocks. Huge rocks washed up on the beaches, and coastlines changed dramatically as the waves surged up into city streets.
After the storm was over, Saint Martin wasn’t a place that anyone could or wanted to visit. The airport and harbors were unusable, and cruise ships were forced to take other routes. The loss of both of these was devastating for both residents and the tourism industry.
Rebuilding after Irma
The first thing to be rebuilt, of course, was Saint Martin’s airport. Surprisingly, it was up and running again after just a month. Next to be repaired was the cruise port. Ships arrived on the island as early as December 2017, and the Dutch capital of Philipsburg was cleaned up in time to receive cruise passengers.
Slowly but surely, the island’s hotels, resorts, and villas were repaired and ready for visitors. Nearly all attractions that had drawn visitors to Saint Martin before the storm are welcoming them once again today, and a few new ones have been built. In fact, Rainforest Adventures at Rockland Estate was opened after Irma in late 2017. The park offers ridgetop ziplining, inner tube rides, scenic chairlift rides, plus historic museum and plantation tours. There’s also a seated zipline called the Flying Dutchman, notably the steepest zipline of its kind in the world.
All of the nation’s 37 beaches are clean and intact. However, their exact size has been somewhat changed by the storm. The island has largely succeeded in restoring tourism to what it was before Irma, with the exception of a few attractions that closed indefinitely. Among these are the Butterfly Farm and the Blue Mall in Cupecoy.
Your visit to Saint Martin can help ongoing efforts to rebuild parts of the island that still need a bit more TLC! Browse incredible luxury villas here.
Main image source: TripAdvisor
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