Hurricane Irma. St Barths and St Martin

Hurricane Irma, what is was like?

It is obvious that many of our friends and family whilst aware that something nasty happened in the Caribbean in September, they do not know what the consequences were. If you went there today and I am writing this at the beginning of December, you could be forgiven if you thought that very little was damaged. That is the power of St Barths, a population of doers. Had a problem? Rectify it!

So we are home after a very strange few weeks. As many of you know the hurricane Irma passed over St Barts on September 6 this year, force 5. Probably a force 6 had the scale been updated. Anne-Marie’s mother, two brothers, sister-in-law and one of her young children plus numerous cousins were there. We were in France and the anxiety of waiting to hear from our family there was awful. Then waiting to know if our house and our livelihood was still standing was also hard.

When we finally got news that no-one was hurt and the house was damaged but OK we breathed a bit. We already had flights for October and despite trying could not change them. When we finally got to St Barts one thing that struck us immediately was the solidarity of the people of St Barts and their resilience and determination during a very difficult few weeks. Few can understand what a force 5 hurricane over your heads can be like. With gusts of nearly 300 mph (463kph) the effect is traumatic. A few statistics to put it all in perspective: This hurricane, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever, was as powerful as the Hiroshima Atomic bomb. One mile from it’s center the winds were the same force as Irma. The A-Bomb lasted a few minutes, Irma lasted three hours. Window glass bows inwards with the pressure and rain pounds the whole area. At one time St Barts was registering earthquake movement. This was actually the buildings shaking and the trees and other debris falling. 

Our home suffered damage and it might have seemed little next to many other homes but nevertheless our insurance claim would tell another story. Part of the rear roof missing, water through the ceiling fell onto the things put inside to be protected.  Sun blind torn away, railings missing, terrace tiles smashed, satellite dish torn away,  air-conditioners ruined and the pool damaged, outside lights out, Spa cover blown away and the spa ruined, Pool filled with rubbish and all the joints were stained, pool room windows and doors blown in, all the equipment ruined and lots of small things too, not in themselves important but needed to be repaired. Trees over 2 meters were topped. We found rips in the metal roof and the roof fastenings lifted with the vibrations and had the hurricane lasted an hour more our whole roof would have been gone and cracks in the water tanks under the terrace proved that. It’s our main income so it all had to be repaired and as quickly as possible.

When we arrived on October 4 the electricity had only be reconnected 2 days before. First came the clearing up that went on day after day. First the debris that had blown in from all the other villas near and far away. A toilet seat,  the top of a swimming pool filter (large solid things). We wondered what state their place was in, and a thick 4 meter long joist, which landed away from the house. Too heavy to lift but like a feather for the hurricane.  

Loads of corrugated roof covers of all colours, twisted and torn like paper plus branches of all sizes. It took over 30 loads with our small lorry to take  that lot to the dump. That too was a sight to see. A mountain of everything.

Then came the estimate stage, you have to have one for the insurance to establish the price but as a few thousand people were asking for estimates, it took time. GDM had over 400 kitchen estimates to do and Ideal TV installed over 2000 new satellite dishes - people never took the dishes down as they wanted the latest hurricane news as it approached until the TV stopped.

The queue to the dump. This just for wood and plastic.
Meanwhile we were hard at work, doing what we could and there was lots that we did do. We actually worked 7/7 from before 6am until dark at 6pm. Then a quick dinner and early bed. Didn't get to any beach the whole 2 1/2 months.
Everything compressed ready to be shipped away

We slept in the lounge as the bedroom air-conditioners were destroyed. We had a few rain storms and had a light shower from time to time during the night, quite refreshing. 

We managed to get our painter, Jean-Charles of Art et Peinture to do the outside quickly and then do the rest when the roof was finished. That helped enormously.   

The problems soon became apparent: Materiel was being held up in Guadeloupe and St Martin. St Martin's port was closed for several weeks and the diverted containers were sent to Guadeloupe. The port authorities blocked them only allowing essentials to be delivered. Our Sun Blind and railings sent from France finally arrived November 19th, 2 months late. On top of that the port in St Barts had sand from the hurricane lift the sea bed level in the dock so that the container ships had to come half loaded. Then lots of workers had to leave as their lodgings were damaged or destroyed and there were not enough lodgings to satisfy the demand. What was easy to get done in normal times became even harder. Most of the artisans we used were all well known to us and were either friends of us or the family. Still we had to ask with a smile, "When? Please, please".  It was a battle but we won in the end. 

José and George hard at work
The pool got a facelift with a new type of Epoxy  grout that lasts a lot longer than ordinary grout. It was only filled in the last few days and I had 2 dips at the very end. That in 2 and a half months! 

The old spa removed
The spa got destroyed because the pumps were left on during the hurricane, the top got blown off and all the shit that flew in clogged up all 5 pumps and the tubes. The new one has not yet arrived when we left despite being ordered in September. It is in one of the containers I mentioned earlier. 

The roofers finishing the rear of the lounge roof
The roofers finally started at the end of November and took one working week to remove the old corrugated, repair where needed and fix the new coverings and a day for the new gutters. 

After the Hurricane
A new lounge
We actually finished on the day before we left!  The new spa arrived a few days later.

What you might ask happened elsewhere on the island?  Here are the houses of 3 of Anne-Marie’s 1st cousins.

Lillian and Lou Lu’s house totalled. 

Jean-Marie and Jean-Pierre’s house had 2 peoples roofs blown into it. The house was only finished last October.

Harold’s house, totalled


And this is what’s left of Anne-Marie’s old school.

Several small planes totalled and hundreds of cars written-off.

Part 2


The hurricane produced within itself small violent tornadoes with gusts of nearly 300 mph (460kph). Damage was extensive on both islands but whilst St Barts was a hive of activity from the moment we arrived (and before), it seems Saint Martin thought differently.  

We passed through Saint Martin on the way in and again for our return flight. These  images from December 12th and little had changed. Debris lies unmoved. Few houses seem to be in any stage of repair. 

Boats still lie half submerged in December

Boats sunk or half sunk still lie in the Marina. Marigot, the main French town on St Martin is a mess. You can see why they suffered so badly. Their buildings are poorly built - 25% have no planning permission thus no building control. The income in St Martin is far lower and many would not have been insured. 

The Fire Station!

Like St Barts, Saint Martin became a Collectivité changing from a Commune of the French department of Guadeloupe. Unable to cope financially with the situation, they changed back again. Guadeloupe have never been generous with their communes!

We saw a house on St Martin being rebuilt. The roof is nailed to a wood frame. This will never survive a force 3 or more hurricane. 

Whilst there were no deaths on St Barts, St  Martin had many. There were reports of bodies being flown to Guadeloupe by night flights for burial there. Two corpses were found under  water near Marigot just a few days ago. I remember in 1995 after the Hurricane Louis no mention was made of the 500 or so Haitians who lived in a shanty town on the Dutch side. Completely destroyed. Many died and the rest were repatriated to Haiti. No more was spoken of that. Similar this time round.  

Typical was the damage to the marina in Marigot, Sain Martin. Most commerces have been destroyed, many boats lie damaged or half submerged. There was no sign of any activity. We saw no-one working on any building nor any shop or boat. 

Stories of near misses on St Barts were many. A cousins family had just moved their children from their beds to the toilet (a safer place as it had a concrete ceiling). A few minutes later a joist flew through the roof and landed on the bed. Another had a similar experience with an iron post that pierced the settee where she had been seated moments before. Neighbours of ours, a couple and three small children spent several hours in their Smart car that they had moved inside for safety, after their roof was blown off. The large wooden deck from Nikki Beach was blown about a mile and a half and landed up a hill in a different bay. 

An entire roof was blown 5 kilometres over a hill too. The owner identified it but decided to leave it where it was. Most damage was caused by flying debris. Cars flew everywhere some hitting houses. Our satellite dish made a nice round dent in the roof.     

On St Barts hundreds of cars and lorries were damaged. The worst were literally shipped out by barge after barge load. Unlike St Martin the port of Gustavia was cleared very quickly. It became a regular Sunday thing for divers to search in the waters off the beaches for debris. Most has now been cleared but there is still a lot under the water. 

The only income on St Barts is from tourism. The figures this year will tell a sad story. We lost bookings but are now open and fully booked until May but others have yet to open their villas and some even have decided to sell up and quit. 

The beginning of December  normally sees loads of boats of all sizes moored outside of the port, which we can see from the villa. The day we left there were none!  However many restaurants are open and many villas operating. 

Some hotels are still closed (Eden Rock, Cheval Blanc and the Barthelemy) but several others open. Most shops are trading. Flights from St Martin and Guadeloupe and elsewhere are operating. The ferries have a changed service as Oyster bay and Bobby's Marina were badly damaged. 

All I can add is that we never want to see this again. It was traumatic for those there. Hats off for those that helped clear-up their homes as well as the island. A great thank you to Bruno Magras, our President. You did a great job.

Henry Barnett December 2017



Hello and welcome to our Villa Henson blog.

Good morning everybody,

I thought that I'd start with a simple "Welcome" especially to any existing clients (you are many) and hopefully some new clients... And if you could "Like" me on Facebook? The left icons
Villa Henson, St Barts. Website

St Barts is a magical Island and, so we've been told, our villa is something special too. So enjoy the virtual visit through this blog or my website or better still why not stay there.

Looking towards St Martin from the Terrace

One of the villa's assets is the view. The sun rises behind the villa and so sets virtually opposite between Saba and St Martin. Depending on the weather and from right to left (or North to South) you can see the islands of St Martin, Saba, St Eustache and St Kitts and Nevis. I have also seen Montserrat. From the villa is a tantalizing view of the harbor of Gustavia. During the day we often look down to the sea below and see turtles swimming and diving.

What's all this with « Sunsets » ?

Check out my sunset post for more
A keen photographer, I love shooting sunsets. What I have noticed is that (as if you didn't know it) every sunset is different, and they all surprise you. The colors are across the scale – Reds, Blues, oranges, grays and greens. The sun sometimes disappears before some far distance clouds but that is when we get the surprises. Flashes and lines in the sky caused by the rays bouncing off far away clouds, quickly changing colors, clouds that take shapes that let the imagination roam.

How many animals can you see?
Just look at the sunset on the right. Can you see a flying animal at the top and the little piggy on the left horizon looking up, with what could be a mouse on the right? BTW on the flying beast's belly is a tiny spot. It's the last flight of the day: St Barths Commuter 17h30 from St Martin. I was having a Rum at the time.

The port of Gustavia, Colombier and the villa
The villa's position, on a hillside gives it unparalleled views across the Caribbean Sea and of course the sunsets. The Bucket Regatta at the end of March each year mostly takes place in front of the villa. A true Royal Box, Grandstand view! (see my post on the Bucket Regatta).

The pool and terrace at night

Many guests just hang out by the pool but there are several magical beaches: Grand Colombier, St Jean or Gouverneur and several others including Saline -below....

Saline beach
Saline or as it's called locally "Anse de Saline" or "Salt Beach" is a simply beautiful beach. Space for everyone and a sea that can be a bit wild at times. But always good fun. There are a couple of good restaurants and a snack bar, on the way to the parking.

The lounge, kitchen and three terrace doors

Anne-Marie and I look forward to our evening sunset spa followed by a rum punch on the terrace and then perhaps out to a restaurant or a meal at the villa. The large lounge has a media centre with lots of films. 

Fully equipped Kitchen

The American style kitchen is fully equipped and we have done some serious cooking there! It's often nice to have a romantic dinner at home, on the terrace and under the stars. 
5 person heated spa

The terrace has a heated spaOf course a gas barbecue is there too if you all you wanted afterwards was a fresh grilled lobster-(we have the address!)- after your evening sunset spa.

Large terrace and infinity pool

The infinity pool looks directly across to the island of Saba. The sun sets between Saba and St Martin, on the far right.
Those loungers turn in to a comfortable double bed.

St Eustache

The two air-conditioned bedrooms, each have  a large, en-suite shower room. The first, Saba is called that because that is the view from your bed.

This bedroom is of course; St Eustache.

The lounge and both the bedrooms open out on to the terrace and have that Caribbean Sea view.

The Villa Henson is for relaxing. It is quiet and away from any traffic. In fact the villa is on our family domain and is very private. Still if guests decide to venture out nothing is far away. I think it's only half-an-hour from the villa to Grand Fond, right at the other end of the Island.

Gustavia, the only port and the capital is only a few minutes drive away.

Unlike the Villas around Flamands, Marigot or St Jean, none of which face west, our villa has very few neighbors. Well there are a couple of quiet villas nearby but to the right is empty land for nearly a kilometer.

I wrote somewhere that we should offer a “money back if not satisfied” guarantee but we didn't as no-one would ever claim.

Please use this blog freely. I'd love to hear from you even if you haven't been to St Barts and will be happy to answer any questions by email.

Be back soon.


P.S. Do look at the few video clips and the large selection of images both of the villa and around St Barts and the photo gallery of my sunsets (all taken from the villa). And please do leave a comment.