ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Dutch king is in St. Martin today, surveying the damage that Hurricane Irma unleashed on the Caribbean island last week. His visit comes as thousands of expats are getting off the island to Puerto Rico and beyond. Communications are spotty, but we were able to reach Melissa Gumbs on Skype. She's a St. Martin native and works for the telecom provider UTS, which has suffered outages since the storm.
MELISSA GUMBS: Multiple sites were indeed damaged with Irma passing, especially our main tower. The other telecoms company as well, Telem, faced serious damages to their infrastructure. So right now both companies are actually collaborating with one another to piggyback on existing and remaining infrastructure and see what we can do to get the networks back up and running so that people can talk to one another and also to the outside world.
SHAPIRO: I know the storm passed over St. Martin late last week. What does it look like when you walk out your front door?
GUMBS: It does look pretty catastrophic. There has been significant damages. Many roofs in my neighborhood are completely gone. I'm one of the very few lucky ones who did not lose their roof. And you have whole homes actually that have been destroyed. So it's mostly been cleanup, trying to get things organized. You have a lot of military boots on the ground from both the Netherlands for the Dutch side and from France on the French side. And they're now coordinating aid distribution efforts on both sides of the island to make sure that everyone gets what they need.
SHAPIRO: We've heard reports of people just desperate for relief. You say the military is there. Are conditions very dire?
GUMBS: For some, they definitely are. You have to understand that some people have lost everything. Sometimes you drive through certain neighborhoods, and there may be just one wall standing from a home and nothing else. So you do have people that are definitely feeling some sense of despair. So it's really been up to the rest of the village, so to speak, to come together and make sure that everyone is taken care of. You have certain neighborhoods where one household cooks, and then they distribute the food, and they share water, resources. And so that kind of community mindset is what we've really had come out in the last couple of days.
SHAPIRO: The stories that we're hearing about St. Martin from the outside sound incredibly harrowing. The stories that you're telling us sound like, we're rebuilding. We're resilient. People are getting through it. Are both true? Are the reports that we're hearing from the outside exaggerated? How would you describe the situation?
GUMBS: I have heard from relatives in the Netherlands that there are numerous - multiple reports of severe looting. Someone spoke to me today that they heard gangs are trying to take over. And I do want to dispel that particular story. I think with every passing storm, as people are faced with the fact that maybe they did take care to prepare for the hurricane but, you know, the hurricane took everything that they purchased and went out and salvaged and stocked up on, desperation kind of sets in, especially for families with children. So that's the general kind of looting that we've been seeing. There will always be a few bad apples in every bunch. And it's just up to everyone else to kind of squash it and just push forward and, like you said, remain resilient and try to build up on what's been left.
SHAPIRO: Miss Gumbs, you posted something on your Facebook page about a flag...
SHAPIRO: ...That was outside of your house during the storm. Will you tell me this story?
GUMBS: (Laughter) Well, before the storm, I was actually in my backyard, securing what I thought could fly around, what could do damage to the house or to houses around us. And I noticed that the flag was in a container on the porch. It had been used in a carnival parade, so there was a lot of paint and ink on it and such. And I tried to remind myself to bring it inside.
And it's only after Irma passed and I was trying to figure out where to start, that my neighbor and I found it on the ground, underneath some zinc and wood and such. And nothing had happened to it. There are no rips or tears or anything, and it spent an entire night outside in the category 5, didn't stray from my backyard, which is good (laughter). And so I said, well, that for me is basically just a motivation of how we have to keep pushing to rebuild in the post-Irma world.
SHAPIRO: Well, Melissa Gumbs, we appreciate your talking with us. And good luck rebuilding. Thank you for your time.
GUMBS: Thank you. Thank you.
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