Published On: Wed, Mar 18th, 2020

No construction freeze for the Red Cross

House repaired by Red Cross - 20200318 JH

PHILIPSBURG – Businesses and shops in Philipsburg are closed, schools in Front Street and Back Street are closed. The silence in the city is broken only by sporadic traffic and the crowing of roosters. Except for Downtown, where hammering and drilling is heard. The Red Cross is building roofs of houses. The teams will continue to work until the end of the week, pending further instructions regarding the coronavirus.

The Red Cross on St. Maarten has access to $3 million from the World Bank, through the St. Maarten Recovery Trust Fund, for the repair of 200 residential roofs. This repair work is in addition to the 1041 roofs that have been repaired since the destruction by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 with the help of the Red Cross.

‘White helmets’ can be found in various locations in Downtown Front Street, Back Street and in alleys connecting the two streets. Teams of men and women with white helmets and gray shirts are busy repairing homes. “It’s about roof emergency repair,” says Fanny de Swarte, coordinator of Red Cross St. Maarten. “I admit, two and a half years after the hurricane, it is late for emergency repair. But that’s the instruction we got from the World Bank.” The Red Cross only has roofs repaired. “For other repairs in and around the home, we must refer to the government.”

Residents of Downtown Philipsburg had been deprived of help since the hurricane. The Red Cross, in consultation with the government, opted for emergency aid to nine neighborhoods on St. Maarten. Philipsburg was not one of them. The Red Cross used the John Larmonie Center in Philipsburg to coordinate emergency aid to the other neighborhoods, to the anger of nearby residents who unsuccessfully knocked on the center’s door for water and food stamps and found no response when they reported that their house was in ruins. At VSA residents of Philipsburg then could get food stamps, but no construction material.

During the past two and a half years, the Red Cross was aware of the dire living situation of many residents of Philipsburg, Over the Pond and other neighborhoods that fell outside the scope of the aid program. The organization previously stated it could not be of help. A number of those in need moved in with family and left their uninhabitable house, after which further decay followed.

A resident of a house on Front Street has been able to save enough in the past two years to afford material for the renovation of his roof and carries out the work himself. “Everyone has come to watch in recent years. All agencies have seen the chaos. Even the King has been here. But did I get help? No, forget it.” He shakes his head. “Now I don’t need any more help, I do it myself now.”

In April last year, Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel organized a meeting under the Community Outreach Program at the John Larmonie Center in Philipsburg. The Ombudsman and her team took stock of complaints from local residents. The vast majority of complaints received by Mossel from the western part of Philipsburg concerned lack of assistance after the hurricane.

At the beginning of this year, the Red Cross had aerial photos of the island taken to see where there are still houses without a roof. Philipsburg and Over the Pond caught the eye. Teams from the Red Cross went into town to talk to residents and record the damage to the homes. “A renovation plan has been made for each of the selected houses, with the Red Cross taking care of the roof,” says Fanny de Swarte, who indicates that requests for roof repair can still be made. Owners of houses with damage to the roof can contact the Red Cross at 545-2333.

House roof repaired by Red Cross - 20200318 JH