Weather disturbance during Tropical Storm Irma

September 6, 2023 marks six years of Hurricane Irma

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Caribbean: The Caribbean region has experienced countless natural havoc, including Tropical Storms and Hurricanes, in the past and is known to be vulnerable to climate change. One such Tropical Storm made its landfall in 2017.

The TS mostly destroyed St. Maarten and Antigua and Barbuda on September 6, 2017. This is known to be the most destructive storm St. Maarten ever experienced.

Hurricane Irma passed over Antigua and Barbuda early on September 6, producing a measured wind gust of 155 mph before the anemometer broke. The 5 am update from NHC kept Irma as a strong category 5 hurricane, with 185 mph sustained winds and a minimum central pressure of 914 mb, according to the Team Sxm and Skb Worldwide Storm Watch and Warning crew.

On the morning of September 6, Irma’s centre crossed the island of Saint Martin while the storm was at peak intensity, sweeping away entire structures, submerging roads and cars, and triggering an island-wide blackout.

Irma’s extreme winds ripped trees out of the ground and sent vehicles and debris from damaged structures scattered across the territory. On the French side of Saint-Martin, entire marinas around Marigot were left in ruins, littered with the stranded remnants of boats that had smashed into each other. A hotel caught on fire, but dangerous conditions and impassable roads prevented firefighters from putting out the blaze. Another hotel lost nearly all of its ground floor.

Media images depicted devastated room interiors with furniture hurled around after the winds had shattered their windows. Irma killed four people on the French side of the island and injured 50 others, one of whom was in critical condition. As many as 95 percent of the buildings there were damaged to some degree; 60 percent of those were totally uninhabitable. Estimates from CEDIM indicate a minimum of $950 million worth of economic losses. Total losses exceeded €3.5 billion (US$4.17 billion).

A similar situation unfolded in Sint Maarten, Saint Martin’s Dutch half, as intense winds ripped through buildings and lifted vehicles aloft “as if they were matches”. The hurricane wreaked havoc on Princess Juliana International Airport, with “huge chunks of the building [strewn] across the runway and a jet bridge snapped in half.

“It demolished or severely damaged about 70 percent of Sint Maarten’s houses, forcing thousands of residents into public shelters. There were four deaths and 23 injuries, 11 of which were serious, in the Dutch territory. Irma is considered the worst natural disaster to hit Sint Maarten; the extent of its damage far exceeded that of any previous hurricane. The government has estimated that total damages were around €2.5 billion (US$2.98 billion).