PHILIPSBURG – Message by the Prime Minister of Sint Maarten the Honorable Leona Romeo-Marlin
To the people of Sint Maarten and guests visiting our shores, today June 1st marks the official start of the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season. As I address you today, I take this opportunity to remind you that it only takes one severe hurricane to disrupt our lives and our economy. Together as a united country, we must do all that we can to be fully prepared for any disaster.
At the beginning of every season, every household and business, needs to prepare for the Hurricane season, this is an individual and collective responsibility.
Being prepared requires preparation, thus with this address, I hope to encourage, each of you to take the necessary individual responsibility to prepare your family and by extension your neighborhood, which will then lead to the entire country being PREPARED!
As Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs, I am ultimately responsible for Disaster Management on the island, a responsibility that I take seriously. In the months leading up to the start of the Hurricane Season, this Government through the efforts of the Emergency Support Function Groups and Stakeholders that form the Emergency Operation Center, are busy preparing the for any possible threat or strike that may hit this Country. We may never be 100% fully ready to face a major hurricane such as Irma but I wish to reassure the people of Sint Maarten that the Civil Servants and public employees that make up the ESF groups are committed to doing all that is possible with the resources available to face any calamity that may come our way.
We cannot for a split second become complacent in our preparations for Hurricane season as Hurricane Irma taught us on September 6th 2017. For many the memories are still vivid and the experiences are still tough to cope with.
Although we have come far in terms of recovery, there are still visible scars throughout our community that reminds us that the end of the road to recovery is still ahead of us. Together with the Netherlands and the World Bank, the recovery projects are being proposed and executed. In our recent discussions held just a few weeks ago, all parties have agreed for the need to accelerate efforts, and as such, I look forward on seeing tangible results within the near future.
As it relates to specific Trust Fund projects that may be affected by the Hurricane Season, just recently in the month of May the roof repair program was launched by the National Recovery Program Bureau bringing a sense of optimism for those in our community that were without a suitable overhead protection for just over one year and half. Door to door, social screening of the private homes of 135 households has been completed and technical assessments to determine the repair needs of these homes are about to start followed by construction.
I am also elated to report that the Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) is close to completing 109 social home repairs. While 160 units that have been repaired already are being reviewed to assess eligibility for retroactive financing.
Many of you may be asking; what is the Government doing? Currently, there are a number of activities and initiatives related to Hurricane Preparedness being executed by our disaster management system the Emergency Operation Center (EOC). Each Emergency Support Function (ESF) Group in the EOC is busy amending their Disaster Plans to reflect best practices from the many trainings and lessons learnt from the experiences of Hurricane Irma and Maria.
For the second year, the Trust Fund has financed Sint Maarten’s insurance premium against tropical cyclones, earthquakes, and excess rainfall under the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF).
1. Discussions are ongoing with Aruba and Curacao to determine the processes that will ensure the delivery of support. Whether it maybe military, governmental, medical or civilian we will be able to count on external support.
2. UNICEF in collaboration with the court of guardianship has hosted its second Child Protection in Emergencies workshop. It is important for parents to be prepared before a disaster just in case the decision is made to evacuate or relocate children to another country. Proper procedures must be followed to ensure the safety and security of our children.
3. On June 22nd the second Hurricane EXPO is being organized to raise the awareness of the public to be properly prepared in the event of a disaster specifically a Hurricane. This year the plans include a series of 3 to 4 info sessions that will target the district communities giving persons the opportunity to ask questions to ESF groups NGO’s and key stakeholders on information provided during the session.
4. The annual HUREX or Hurricane Exercise Drill will take place this year at the end of June where all the members of the EOC will test their readiness and capacities as response organizations.
5. Following the HUREX, the EOC will once again get together on July 5th in an internal setting as previously done at the Disaster Preparedness Conference. The theme of this year’s Disaster Conference will be “Communication is Critical” with the emphasis on internal and external communication.
The launching of a Disaster Emergency App will take place during the Disaster Preparedness Conference. On this app, persons will be able to receive pertinent information, warnings and alerts as it relates to Disasters on Sint Maarten.
6. The annual Hurricane Clean-up by the Ministry of VROMI will take place within the neighborhoods and districts at the end of June or early July. Persons will be asked to put out their “bulky waste” such refrigerators, stoves, mattresses and heavy shrubbery. The pickup schedule will be published for each district at the start of cleanup campaign.
If you ask, how can you prepare and be resilient? Everyone, in his or her respective households needs to know how to be storm-ready. Every business owner/manager should also have a process for his or her employees about being storm-ready, and the month of June is a good time to do so.
I urge you NOT to wait until a hurricane is knocking at our door. Do NOT wait for the last moment to run to the store to buy batteries, canned goods, diapers, essential toiletries etc. Do so well before the peak of the hurricane season because, it is beneficial to you and your family that you prepare early!
We have had the experience for many years now, of what needs to be done to prepare for the annual hurricane season. There is information that is readily available from many credible sources. The key is to take action and not to wait until the last minute. As a community, we need to take every precautionary measure to minimize the impact of damage and destruction that storms or hurricanes wreak.
Having said that, a very important part of this process, is for the key stakeholders in our community for example NGO’s and Community Councils, to have their own plans ready to be implemented when the time comes. As citizens, it is your responsibility to connect with community leaders in your neighborhoods to be informed of plans that may affect you during an emergency.
With everyone taking their responsibility serious, the damage across the country can be mitigated and limited, leading to a speedier recovery and reopening of the country and return to normalcy.
Review and restock your disaster supply kit with food, medications, drinking water, an emergency cash fund and other essentials; secure and safe guard your homes and places of business; trim overhanging trees near buildings; check leaking roofs; install storm shutters; review the structure of your roof and strengthen it; repair windows and doors if necessary.
If you live along the beach or in flood prone areas make plans to move before the storm hits to stay with family, friends or make alternative housing arrangements. Make plans for elderly family members who live alone as well as those family members who are physically challenged. Please do not forget your pets. Remember, preparing early is the key!
I would also like to inform you that the relevant authorities are busy with the review and preparation of the proposed shelters. Therefore, within short, the shelter list for 2019 will be published for your awareness.
I am aware that many persons are working diligently with the goal of having their homes and businesses completed before the peak months of the hurricane season arrives in August, September and October. Please work prudently with a plan and you will be able to complete your goals and objectives without putting your neighbors and fellow citizens at risk.
There are also several non-Governmental and Governmental programs as mentioned before in the sector of home & roof repairs for private homes, seniors and other vulnerable groups within our communities. We are all working with the same goals in mind to complete these works before the peak of the season.
The rebuilding efforts are ongoing and if any severe weather is imminent, please take the necessary precautions as advised for construction sites. The removal of cranes, loose lying lumber and debris should be your first priority, as we know flying debris during a hurricane causes unnecessary damage to surrounding properties.
In closing, I want to ask you the public to do your part and seek out the relevant information for your immediate family and community. This information should cover your personal emergency planning that takes into account the wellbeing of your children, pets, household emergency supplies, all insurances, safeguarding of important travel and identification documents and access to official communication sources.
Persons are also reminded to be vigilant and act responsibly by avoiding the spread of information that does not originate from official government sources.
As a community, let us come together and collectively prepare Sint Maarten for this season. I call on Civic organizations, community councils and other non-governmental organizations, to continue to contribute in preparing our community to be storm-ready. A collective effort will make a huge difference!
Remember it only takes one, Let’s us be prepared.