WASHINGTON – St. Martin, one of the Caribbean islands ravaged by a hurricane last month, aims to restore its economy by late 2018, according to the Dutch ambassador to the United States.
“Everything I hear is that we’re going to lose this tourist season,” Ambassador Henne Schuwer said, “I think at the end of the hurricane season next year – October, November – (the island) will be able to receive visitors again.”
“I think that should be the goal,” Schuwer said.
Three powerful hurricanes laid waste to a number of Caribbean islands last month, taking lives, buildings and whole communities. Hurricane Irma leveled St, Martin with Category 5 ferocity. Puerto Rico was the most recent to be devastated – by Hurricane Maria.
Though the French and Dutch island of St. Martin didn’t experience the same level of damage as Puerto Rico, Schuwer said conditions on the island remain critical.
“I think the situation is still dire,” he said, “I think everyone is in agreement that it was much worse than in 1995.”
In 1995, Hurricane Luis killed nine people on the island, according to a National Hurricane Center report. The cost to restore the island then was $1 billion.
“This time around,” Schuwer said, “I don’t think it will be any less.”
Official estimates on the cost of rebuilding have not been released. Schuwer said that the countries and territories of the Netherlands will continue to provide aid to St. Martin, along with the French government and U.S. businesses.
As French and Dutch authorities work to rebuild the 34-square-mile island, climate change experts like Joel Scata, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, offered advice.
“Communities need to build back stronger,” he said, “not only to protect the people and property, but also to reduce the likelihood of similar damage happening in the future.”
“It’s better to do something right than to have to do it over again,” he added.
The fact that hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria have come in swift succession this season signal a new epoch in the Caribbean’s existence: In preparing for future natural disasters, authorities can no longer solely rely on history as a guide.
“You’re going to build in the back of your mind that maybe this is going to happen in five years again,” Schuwer said.