Irma’s fury brought widespread destruction to the island of St. Martin Wednesday, leaving its world-famous airport so badly damaged that it was unreachable Thursday.
Princess Juliana International Airport, which is on the Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten, has become a must-see landmark for visitors who gather at the nearby beach to watch planes fly low overhead.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see the airport, the homes and hotels in ruins,” said Julie Young, a Virginia resident who went on a family vacation to the island in late June. “The Maho Beach plane-watching was spectacular.”
Dutch military officials who flew over the island reported extensive damage but no deaths. Officials say rebuilding the infrastructure remains crucial in the recovery process and getting aid to the residents who remain in flooded conditions. The airport is at the highest of priorities for the delivery of help and supplies, the Dutch navy said via Twitter on Thursday.
The “Maho Beach Cam” — a live stream that typically shows the airplane landings at Princess Juliana — showed Irma striking the popular tourist attraction with winds and rainfall so strong that only blurs of a few streetlights were visible. Irma’s peak intensity with winds at 185 mph, ranks among the strongest in recorded history, according to the Capital Weather Gang.
Officials said Irma was a storm of “epic proportions” when it hit the Dutch side of the island. Video images tweeted by the Dutch Defense Ministry showed damage to the airport and the dock and seafront areas.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Irma left “widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses” and residents with no power, no gasoline and no running water, the Associated Press reported.
“Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark, in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world,” Rutte said.
The damage at Princess Juliana Airport made it difficult for aid to arrive. Still Dutch officials said they have planes that will be able to land at the airport, carrying food and water to supply the island’s 40,000 residents for at least five days.
The former Dutch colony is located on the southern part of the Caribbean island shared with a French territory, known as St. Martin.
Those who have visited the island say they worry for the people, pets and property, and the time it may take the island to recover after such devastation.
Young, who had St. Martin at the top of her bucket list for years, said the summer trip was one of the best her family had had.
“I’ve cried with each new video or photo,” she said. “Such a perfect, magical place reduced to rubble.”