It’s been a long three days on the island of St. Martin. On Tuesday evening, it was an idyllic tropical getaway. By 10 a.m. the next morning, it was a decimated shadow of itself, having taken six hours of pummeling from Hurricane Irma.
Shocking photos show roofless homes, cars and boats piled up like children’s playthings, with debris everywhere. The death toll on the French side of the dual-nationality island has been revised down to four, but officials are warning that it could still rise as rescue teams begin their work.
Since the storm, Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz and his wife, Sara, co-directors of Chabad of St. Martin/St. Maarten, which is located on the Dutch side of the island, have been steadily making contact with Jewish community members, friends and neighbors to make sure they’re OK.
“I spent the whole day yesterday searching for people we know here,” says the rabbi. “Almost everyone has so far been accounted for, but there are still people missing.”
Power and communication went down during the storm, and have yet to resume, making check-up phone calls nearly impossible. Chanowitz, who rode out the storm with his family in their partially finished Chabad center, has a small generator that has allowed him to keep his phone powered, at least for now.
For those concerned about their loved ones, the rabbi has been an integral link, passing on regards and notifying people that their family members are safe.
“Calls have been coming through from Israel, France, the United States—people looking for their family and who want to make sure they’re safe and being cared for,” he says by phone, while making his rounds on the island.
The U.S. Consulate General on the island of Curaçao estimates that some 6,000 Americans remain stuck on the island, whose airport was destroyed by Irma. Among those trapped are American students at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.
Friends and strangers, Jews and non-Jews, have also been regularly stopping by the Chabad center to use the cell phone there, one of the only ones in operation in the area.
Food and water are quickly becoming issues on St. Martin, and the Chanowitzes have been distributing the Chabad House’s stock to those passing through the center.
“We have a limited amount of water that we’re distributing, especially to children,” says the rabbi. “Whatever food we have, sandwiches, granola bars, applesauce . . . we’re sharing with people.”
Rebuild From Here
Chanowitz reports that seemingly everyone on the island has suffered extensive damage to their homes and/or property. The islands of Barbuda (which was leveled), Antigua, Anguilla, St. Barts and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been similarly hard-hit.
As Shabbat approaches, the rabbi continues to make rounds, attempting to contact every last person and offer whatever help he can.
“We are among the thousands of people here hit, and luckily, we were spared and are able to help,” he says. “But there are members of my community who have lost their homes, businesses—everything. Whether it’s their hotel or a jewelry store, they’re going to have to rebuild from nothing.”
Click here to donate to Chabad of St. Maarten/St. Martin hurricane relief fund.