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FEATURE STORYSeptember 15, 2023

Resilience after a Disaster

Florentina Richardson

Florentina Richardson

World Bank

Florentina Richardson was planning to replace the roof of her house, but Hurricane Irma saved her the trouble, she recalled wryly. As the massive Category 5 storm approached Sint Maarten in September 2017, Florentina sensed the danger and managed to get one of the last flights off the island before the storm hit.

A few days later, Florentina returned on a flight carrying desperately needed supplies and humanitarian aid, including some she had prepared herself. She was thunderstruck by the devastation of her country and home. The hurricane had blown almost all the roof right off Florentina’s house, and a live electrical wire was exposed in the yard. When she opened her front door, she saw that the only thing left undamaged was a picture of Jesus on the wall. The furniture was in disarray, the curtains were down, and there was widespread water damage, including a line on the wall marking the height of the floodwaters.

 Florentina said, “I fell on my knees and thanked God because looking at this damage, if I stayed, I would have died, and nobody would have known until much later when they started cleaning up.” When she began cleaning, she asked her neighbors to help install a tarp as a temporary roof, but pigeons got into the house. “The pigeons took over. There were droppings everywhere. Whatever I had saved from the hurricane, they ruined. They occupied the house for nearly three years,” she said.

With her home unlivable, Florentina was forced to live off the kindness of her neighbors, often sleeping on friends’ couches. When the Sint Maarten Government, with the support of the Sint Maarten Trust Fund’s Emergency Recovery Project I (ERP-I), announced that it would help repair hurricane-damaged homes, Florentina signed up immediately.

That all the stakeholders and the World Bank were able to come together to help the people who can’t help themselves—especially senior citizens—there is no word in any language big enough to say thank you.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Florentina Richardson
Beneficiary of the Emergency Recovery Project I support.

The First Step to Reconstruction, Recovery, and Resilience

Hurricane Irma—one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin—hit Sint Maarten on September 6 with winds and rain so intense that approximately 90 percent of the country’s buildings were damaged. The government estimated that the 19,400 homes of Sint Maarten’s 40,000 documented residents were damaged, and 5,000 people were displaced.

ERP-I was one of the first projects approved by the Sint Maarten Trust Fund, in July 2018, to quickly address the most immediate recovery priorities. The National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) implements the project, working closely with NV GEBE, the country’s main utility company, the Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation, and the Ministries of General Affairs; Justice; Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications; Public Health, Social Development and Labor; and Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

The project focuses on building the capacity of Sint Maarten’s first responders to react more efficiently, restore critical public utilities faster, and retain higher overall disaster preparedness capabilities. ERP-I also restores housing. In 2022, about 3,440 citizens benefited from the project’s more hurricane-resilient services, such as underground electric cables, telecom conduits, and potable water distribution pipes. Fire, ambulance, and police services also received critical upgrades to infrastructure, equipment, and vehicles. And nearly 450 Sint Maarteners—like Florentina— were helped with repairing and rebuilding their homes. To ensure an even stronger response capacity going forward, the project has also provided support for Sint Maarten to obtain a Caribbean Catastrophe Disaster Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) subscription and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) membership.

Grateful for the Support

Florentina recalled some people’s skepticism about ERP-I repairing homes: “They believed if they signed up, it meant the government could come later and take their house away. For me, however, and other people who can’t help themselves, this was a great opportunity.” ERP-I and the NRPB replaced her roof, repaired the windows, installed new doors, and upgraded the wiring. Florentina’s move home in 2022 could not come fast enough. “I told them that whether it was ready or not, I was moving back into my house by September 11. And I was able to,” she said.

With her roof repaired and the pigeons gone, Florentina was more than satisfied: “Just to have a roof over my head, even if they didn’t also do the rest, I am grateful for the support and for how the NRPB kept in touch after. I know I can always reach out. That all the stakeholders and the World Bank were able to come together to help the people who can’t help themselves—especially senior citizens—there is no word in any language big enough to say thank you.”


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