Re: today, 5th of September....
Date: September 05, 2009 01:43PM
Hurricane Luis 1995
Hurricane Luis was the "big one" for the Island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten. September 05, 1995 is when SHE hit us. What was
then a category 4 and is now classified as a category 5. Hurricanes usually pass over an Island. Luis came to roost. The storm
stayed with us for some 38 hours.
Thanks to satellite television and stations like The Weather Channel and CNN and numerous web sites we were all well aware of the
approaching storm. The storm was nearly perfectly formed and tracking directly towards us. Luis. It was the two days prior to
land fall that had residents in a frenzy. Lumber yards, hardware stores, supermarkets, and petrol stations were all packed with
customers lined up out the doors. Plywood, nails, duct tape, candles, flash lights, batteries, canned foods, bottled water, ice,
beer, wine and booze. Get ready for the big hit.
My Honda Magna went to the dealer for "an oil change". My friend Mark tied no less than eight lines to his 38 foot trawler on the
dock in Oyster Pond. Mark, his girl friend Lilly and their Skipper Key dog Bandit stayed in my apartment on Simpson Bay Beach during the
storm. The building was all concrete and the landlord had boarded the sliding doors and windows. We were well stocked and waiting.
We tucked Lily's car into a corner, a wall in front and a fence on the side and placed a tarp over her. It was a two storey building, we were
on the top floor and ready.
First you feel the air pressure as it get lower, the sky gets darker and then we could actually "see" the storm coming at us. We endured
the howling winds, the bits of flora and fauna bouncing off the building, doors and windows flexing in and out. At one point the
sliding glass doors facing the Sea bowed to such an extent that we moved the TV cabinet, book cases and couch in front on them.
We were getting ready for the glass to flex just a bit too far. It did not, the apartment remained intact.
As we experienced a direct hit, midway through the storm the "eye" passed over us. It was now day two. The noise stopped. The wind
stopped. The ominous low pressure was still present, then the sun came out so we went out side to survey the damage.
The beach in front of my apartment had been about 60 feet deep, now it was about 30. Half of it gone. The trees in the neighborhood were
mostly damaged and there was all kinds of plant debris on one side of the building. We had about half an hour of this break in the
storm before the opposing eye wall came bearing down on us, time for round two.
The second half of the storm began with a greater punch than the first. Now we were experiencing the storm from the inside out. The
winds were now 180 degrees in direction from where they had been. Now my apartment door was in the lee of the wind so we could open
it and watch the action as opposed to being trapped in a dark room. It was incredible. The sea in front of my building was running North
to South at about 30 knots. It was like a raging river full of debris including whole trees. There had been almost no sand in front of
the buildings at the southeast end of Simpson Bay Beach, near the bridge, prior to the storm. Afterwards, and still in 2007 there is
a beach where there had been none.
When the storm finally passed we gladly piled out of the apartment to head to Oyster Pond to see how Mark's boat
was. We got into Lily's car and early in the morning and drove over Cay Hill and passed my current place of
employment, Ram's Wholesale. The entire roof was gone. Not a single sheet of zinc roofing was left. You
could see the goods stacked on the pallet racks. We continued to observe the damage as we entered Philipsburg.
As we approached the Great Salt Pond we saw looters pushing furniture out the missing windows of Carib
Home Center and landing two floors below in their parking lot. What a waste and a crime. We watched the
traffic on the roads grow as more people were venturing out to eyeball the destruction for themselves.
As we approached Oyster Pond we were silenced by the sheer magnitude of the destruction to the boats in the
water. Only a couple were floating. Most were sunk or blown ashore. Mark's boat was still tied to the three
mooring lines off of the bow and the stern lines were still tied to the dock. But there was a 30 odd foot sailboat rammed
into the port side stern of his Trawler which had pushed it enough that the starboard side hull was sitting on the
iron shore, razor rock. The boat was screwed. We quickly recovered as many of their personal effects as would
fit into lily's car. We now headed back over the hill to see if I could get my motorcycle out of the shop.
As we were driving up A.J.C. Brouwer's Road past Ram's we were amazed at the number of people looting the building.
Persons unknown had literally peeled the zinc sheets off of the front of the building and entered the premises.
We pulled the car over and got out. I headed to my office to retrieve my laptop computer and personal effects.
I was late but not that late. My computer and personal items were still in my desk but the laptops power supply
and cord were gone. Grabbing the laptop I then headed to the other set of offices in the rear of the building. I passed
what was now a full house of looters as I crossed through the Supermarket and warehouse sections of the building.
It was shocking to see what people were gathering in their arms, shopping carts and trolleys. I had some empathy for the
woman taking rice and diapers but not for the guy loading a cart with cases of scotch and cognac. I entered the rear offices
to find that they had already been stripped of computers and other desk top items. The only thing of value which I could find
to take with me was the rolodex on the owners desk.
The doors of the Harley Davidson dealer were open. I quickly grabbed my Honda Magna and headed back to Philipsburg
to the home of the owners of Ram's Wholesale, rolodex in my back pack. I passed by Ram's Wholesale which was now an
uncontrolled hoard of looters complete with politicians loading luxury cars with cases of liquor. Just down the road from Ram's
was Food Center. Their building seemed sound, some of the roof top cooling units appeared damaged, and was surrounded
by Dutch military troops. Traffic was getting worse as I passed through Philipsburg on my way to Point Blanche.
I explained what I had seen to the owners and agreed to return the next day and formulate a game plan.
Boy was I glad that I had a motorcycle that next day. Traffic was now at nearly a stand still as the stunned population was now out
en mass to view the Island wide destruction. I picked up the principle, Danny, at the family compound and told him to forget about
a car and to get on the back of my bike if we were to get anything accomplished. We headed to Ram's Wholesale first. Still
over run by looters. We now headed to the Police Station to get help to clear the looters from the building so that we could start
salvage operations. Ram's was the largest of the Islands wholesalers in the grocery, food and beverage business. We had
some eighty odd containers at the port full of basic commodities like rice, flour, sugar, water, cereal, powdered milk, cleaning
supplies, canned foods and more.
The Police were unable to give us any support as many officers own homes had been destroyed and family businesses were in disarray.
They had their own shortages and problems to deal with.
The Politicians had their hands full dealing with housing shortages, utility outages and other issues. Both Danny and I were exploring
ways to get the Dutch Military to intervene and lend us troops similar to what was happening at Food Center.
After comparing notes with Danny I headed to the main Government Building to see what I might be able to accomplish there while
Danny headed else where seeking help from other corners. I entered the building and headed directly upstairs to the end which
houses the Governors offices. As I had made my rounds seeking help I described myself a the Manager of Ram's Wholesale and
had not gotten anywhere. I now knocked on the door to the Lieutenant Governors Meeting Room which a Dutch Marine Officer
I introduced myself to the Major as the American owner of Ram's Wholesale, the Islands largest wholesaler. And I asked him for help.
I explained the dilemma of the looters and the need to clear the building and get our distribution business back up and running for the
good of the Island. I hit him with the number of trucks which we had, fork lifts and the volume of goods sitting in containers on the docks
which needed to be unloaded and distributed around the Island. He told me that I needed the Police not the Military. I told him that
the Police were unable to help us and compared us to Food Center which WAS being guarded by Military. Again he replied that he could
not help. What to do now.
I explained that I was from Washington, D.C., that the business was well insured, and that if I could not get someone to help
me then I would go home to DC. Home to explain on CNN that I couldn't get ANY help so I left the Island to itself. Please Help!
The Major told me to wait a couple of minutes as he closed the door on me. Less than two minutes later he reappeared with another
Marine Officer and told me that I had this officer and his squad at my disposal to clear the looters and keep them out. Help at last.
The Marines followed me on my motorcycle to Ram's. The Marines took their places on the perimeter of the property. The Officer
and couple of men and I took up a position in front of the building where one of the men yelled into a bull horn. He gave the crowd
two minutes to clear the building or be shot for looting. One minute warning. Thirty seconds. Twenty. They were leaving the building.
Ten seconds. Not quite clear. What to do. I suggested that they shoot at a pallet on the upper tear of the racks. A whole
pallet full of Heinz Tomato Juice 12/46oz cans. Bang! Bang! And Bang! I wasn't prepared for the LOUD report from the military
rifle. Who cared, tomato juice on the floor, the building was now clear of looters. And we had a squad of Marines to keep them out.
Fork lifts were buried under a mountain of wet cardboard and cases of goods which had fallen when the cases collapsed after getting
soaked by the rain. Whole isles were impassable and huge volumes of merchandise had been destroyed by both the rain and the looters.
It was a huge mess. Two of our trucks were laying on their sides and leaking fluids. There was a lot of work to be
done before we would be delivering any goods.
Rebuilding Post Luis
It took weeks for the local electricity company and telephone company to completely restore services. Many businesses
took weeks and in severe cases a year to rebuild. The main objective at Ram's Wholesale was to get back into the distribution
business. The retail operations were secondary. Ram's had purchased an existing building in the Cole Bay area in early 1995.
During some minor renovations of the building an accidental fire had burned the majority of the warehouse area. The office section
of the building had survived and while roofless the loading docks could still be used.
The first cargo ship to dock in Philipsburg after Luis contained the materials to rebuild the Cole Bay, Ex Daily Cash, warehouse.
A deal was quickly struck with a local Dutch based contractor to rebuild the structure. We had quickly occupied the offices.
We had electricity. We had no phones. The business had one line when the building was purchased and the new owners
had applied for three more from the local telephone company. I paid a visit to the telem offices in Philipsburg several days
after the passing of the storm and inquired about having our lines activated and connected. I was fortunate in finding an
understanding gentleman who understood our need to get the business back on it's feet. Quite shockingly the four telephone
lines were wired and operating the NEXT day. The main telephone cables in that area of the Island did not suffer any major damage
from the storm.
We had loading docks, trucks, offices, telephones and a fax machine. We were started. The trucks which had been blown over and
were leaking fluids were being repaired. Fork lifts, both electric and gas were unburied and brought over to the Cole Bay
warehouse. New electric fork lifts were ordered from Miami. New pallet type warehouse shelving was also ordered. And the
crew had arrived on site to start rebuilding the warehouse including a new 10,000 square foot mezzanine level.
It wasn't that efficient working out of forty foot containers but we were back in business. Several of the medium sized wholesalers
were also buying more whole container lots from us. A greater variety of goods was now being distributed to the smaller
neighborhood grocery stores. At least the basic foods and cleaning supplies were now readily available Island wide.
Simpson Bay Lagoon is the largest safe haven for yachts in the Caribbean. Many Islands have their own "Hurricane Hole"
safe spots but the Lagoon in Sint Maarten is king. Unfortunately there is no organized mooring system on either the French or
Dutch side of the lagoon. Many yachts have substantial "hurricane" moorings in different parts of the lagoon but in September
1995 there were a reported 1600 boats at anchor in the Lagoon. Boats came from as far away as Nevis and Antigua, even the
Saint Kitt's Coast Guard sent their boat to Sint Maarten for Hurricane Luis.
The lack of a formal mooring system was a part of the problem during Luis. The locally based bare boat charter companies had
their fleets anchor in the Lagoon, some with only one or two anchors but no real hurricane strength moorings. When the storm
was at its peek, with 200 mile per hour wind gusts and 15 foot waves, these basic anchors could not hold. The lagoon became a giant
pinball machine. Boats dragged anchors and ran into a hornets nest of empty boats bashing each other into bits of flotsam and
jetsam. Even the well prepared sailor was at the mercy of these unmanned craft. One charter company alone had 68 boats at
anchor in the lagoon (Sunsail).
Some of the more well prepared sailors picked up anchor and headed to the eastern side of the lagoon near the landmark known
as the Witches Tit. The northern side of Mount Fortune has some dense mangroves while the southern side is muddy and shallow.
Better to be stuck in the mud that be sunk. And better to have a few scrapes from some mangrove than be on the bottom,
Even boats anchored in the Mullet Pond section of the Lagoon were dealt a blow. The Mullet Bay Golf Course was littered with
boats. The fairway of the first hole was now home to a forty-five foot catamaran. The eleventh hole green was not accessible due
to a boat blocking the golf cart path.
In the aftermath of the storm there were so many damaged boats, both power and sail, that several new "boat yards" were created
on both the French and Dutch sides of the Lagoon to deal with the salvaged hulks. Salvage operations continued for more than a year
to clear all of the wrecks.
One of the most surprising revelations in the weeks following Hurricane Luis was the insurance agent known as "Tony Baloney".
Tony had been in the insurance business on the Island for years, being a broker for several international insurers. The problem was
that Tony had not been passing all of the premiums, both new policy and renewals, to the issuers of the policies. This left dozens
of boat owners, home owners and even Dawn Beach Hotel without any insurance coverage in the wake of Hurricane Luis.
"Tony Baloney" fled the Island and was apprehended in New York and repatriated to the Island. The Coconut Telegraph reported that
after being convicted of insurance fraud on Sint Maarten, he was whisked away to England where he is incarcerated.
Just Another Ho Hum Day On D Planet