It breaks my heart to see what happened to St. Maarten during Hurricane Irma. This place had been my home for two years while I was studying medicine at AUC, and it was where Irene and I got engaged. We had a lot of sweet memories here.
I feel bad for the current students there right now. When I was there, we had Hurricane Earl in 2010, and we rode out the storm safely in the campus shelter. But what we went through was not even close to the destruction that Irma caused. According to a source in St. Martin, an estimated 95% of the island infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. My alma mater is now evacuating students from the island, especially with food and watery supply running low, and with another storm, Hurricane Jose, just around the corner, potentially threatening to batter the island yet again
Looking at AUC’s history, this appears to be the third time since AUC was founded in 1978 when students and faculty had to be evacuated from campus – first in 1989 when AUC was located on Montserrat and Hurricane Hugo (another category 5 hurricane) flattened the island; and then in 1995 when the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted, leaving 2/3 of Montserrat (and the old AUC) covered in lava and ash and uninhabitable, leading to the university’s subsequent relocation to the island of St. Maarten. Despite natural calamities, the school has been able to survive, stay strong, and recover, and graduate more than 6000 doctors since its founding. I believe the school will do the same this time with Hurricane Irma.
Reading my Facebook feed from students who are down on the island, I have been touched to hear some heroic stories coming out of the AUC community during these hard times. One of my friends when I was at AUC, the now Dr. Aleksandrova, and her husband, Dr. Pleener (also an AUC grad), were visiting the island when Irma struck. They, along with several other doctors, faculty, and students, including first-year students, came together to form a makeshift hospital in Building 2 on campus. They carried out several rescue missions during those few days, saving a woman trapped in a building, attending to injuries, and even helped deliver a baby in Building 2. Hearing these accounts make me proud to be a part of this community.
St. Maarten will always have a special place in my heart. Recovery will take a lot of work, man power, money, and hope. Stay strong AUC and St. Maarten.
A few GoFundMe effort for the recovery and rebuilding of the St. Maarten and AUC community:
Video footage by current AUC student Michelle Arsenault. #AUCStrong.
UPDATE: Students have now been evacuated from St. Maarten to Chicago, via a combination of efforts from the US military and AUC, who has chartered flights and provided accomodations for students.