The past eight weeks will never be forgotten. While we may not recall details or even trends during September 2015 or September 1995, September 2017 saw two major earthquakes in Mexico, several category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Caribbean, which landed onshore, and a mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Trinity Houston, executive producer of the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema, experienced and endured Hurricane Irma as it pummeled Sint Maarten. (The island known as St. Martin in English is divided between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten.)
More importantly, not only did she live through it, but thousands of others survived because of her actions before, during and after the Category 5 hurricane passed over the tiny Caribbean Island.
This is the first of three parts describing the ordeal Houston encountered, and the actions she took that helped so many.
Trinity Houston is a media management consultant. One of her major clients is Royal Resorts of Cancun. This resort manager also owns Simpson Bay Resort on Sint Maarten.
She had been working at Simpson Bay for about five to six weeks before the warning in early September that Hurricane Irma’s path would pass over the island. She had tickets to depart on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Slightly worried about the impending Category 5 hurricane, Houston, who already had first-hand knowledge of another Category 5 hurricane when Wilma passed over Cancun in 2005, wanted to depart.
On Sept. 1, the local resort management held a meeting to discuss preparations for the approaching hurricane. Houston attended and was asked for advice from her previous experience.
“I suggested they board the windows, pull down all outdoor signs and anything else that might fly in the winds,” she said. In the Caribbean and Mexico, inhabitants and officials generally know what to do when a hurricane threatens. “It is like earthquake preparation here,” she said.
On Sept. 2, Houston investigated the possibility of getting tickets on an earlier flight since Irma’s arrival was forecast for Thursday, Sept. 7. “But flights were booking up to get off the island,” she lamented.
With no expectation of any early departure, the resort asked if she would stay and help with preparations. No senior management was available at the time and the local staff wanted someone who knew what to expect. “But I worried a little since I have been in a 5 before, but it was on the mainland not an island,” she said. “It’s a hurricane, that’s still disturbing.”
Houston explained to the staff that preparing to withstand and survive the winds and rains was only the first step. The island will be damaged and services will be severely limited. “We’ll need a plan to get people out after the hurricane,” she advised. “Normally, with the electricity out, especially at an airport, airlines won’t be coming in soon.”
From Saturday to Tuesday, the days passed quickly because there were so many tasks to accomplish as everyone began to prepare for the hurricane’s arrival, Houston said. After Irma moved on, time slowed dramatically from Thursday until Saturday as she tried to arranged for transportation off the island.
Over the preceding weekend and on Monday, she urged all the guests who were still resident to get food and water — enough for three to four days. Since the resort was also a time share, many were in rooms with kitchens. These guests would not have to depend upon the resort food supplies.
Using her video skills, Houston created messages — red and yellow — for the guests’ in-hotel network and a video about securing rooms. “But outside it was still beautiful, no clouds,” she said. The internal network functioned until the hurricane was over them.
By Tuesday, the winds began to appear and grew stronger. The resort occupants settled into their rooms. Bathrooms were considered secure, away from possible broken winds.
On Sept. 6, Irma’s winds were clocked at 185 miles per hour. A Category 5 hurricane is designated when wind speed reaches 155 mph. It was the strongest hurricane of 2017. Irma caused catastrophic damage. According to news reports, as of Sept. 30, 132 people died from the hurricane, including four in Sint Maarten.
Part 2 will appear in the Oct. 19 edition of the Town Crier.