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rjgdjg Jun 15th, 2019 08:42 AM

Paradise Revived: St. Maarten Two Years After Irma
The French woman kept her shop. But the two vendors next to her weren’t so lucky.

The owner of the Amsterdam Cheese & Liquor Store said Irma blew out his windows, shut off his power and wreaked havoc in his shop. His vast inventory of expensive cheese was gone. Without insurance, it set him back two years. “It’s the price you pay for living in Paradise,” he said with a shrug.

Today, two years after the category 5 hurricane rammed through St. Maarten, Philipsburg is alive and kicking, with rebuilding and rising spirits.

For the cruiser, the heart of Philipsburg doesn’t look a whole lot different than before the storm. The water is just as blue. The shoreline is still lined with bustling bars and cafes, colorful umbrellas and beachy funkiness. Jet skis keep kicking up their spray as they fly across the harbor. Front Street still sports chic jewelry and clothing shops. And uniformed kids forever fill the streets with their lunchtime laughter.

Yet, signs of Irma remain. There are a few boarded windows here and there. The landmark Belgian chocolate shop with its iconic replica of Brussels’ Manneken Pis is gone from Old Street. In fact, not much retail remains on Old Street. Many small businesses with insurance took their money and ran, says the cheese shop owner. Noticeably missing from the side streets is the once plethora of small vendors and stalls.

But the optimism and openness to tourism that has long been the hallmark of this Eastern Caribbean island staunchly remains. It’s what led to quick rebuilding, the launch of vibrant new shops, restaurants and bars, and is what continues to make St. Maarten a wonderful port to visit. - Musing About Cruising

whitehall Jun 15th, 2019 11:01 AM

Maybe the rebuilding you refer to is largely for appearances to cruise passengers?

When we flew into SXM 10 days ago (to go to another island), we could see lots of damage on both sides of the airport runway, including large overturned boats, blue roofs and more. The airport itself was located under tents for a year after the hurricanes, and its terminal facilities are still jumbled into spaces that makes it feel a bit third world. We had been impressed with the airport pre-hurricane. The main ticket counter areas and the main boarding area on the top floor may be out of action for a couple more years. Work on those key areas may not even start before the end of this year. So, no quick re-building there. Our favorite terminal bar said they have moved four times since the hurricanes. Besides now having long lines (when we were there, there was only one metal detector open or multiple large planes departing at the same time), they have added a new layer of airport bureaucracy (you still go through Passport Control before Security), a window called "Emigration" after you go through Security. And, more lines. I believe the last count was that only 50% of the hotel rooms have been returned to service. And, locals tell us that the French side of St. Martin is an even bigger mess.

rjgdjg Jun 16th, 2019 06:28 PM

Thank you, whitehall, for your report--it does, indeed, sound like most of the island is still in recovery mode. My observations were only in regard to the Philipsburg area--the beach area and Front St. I imagine that the tourist area was rebuilt first because they rely so much on tourism. One shop owner said that if the hurricane and its damage wasn't bad enough, the cruise ships weren't coming. - Musing About Cruising

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