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.