Luis Is No Holiday for Vacationers
SIMPSON BAY, St. Maarten (AP) _ On what was supposed to be the last day of Joachim and Maren Marroquin’s honeymoon, the hotel management summoned them and the resort’s 50 other guests to deliver a bit of bad news.
Hurricane Luis was headed their way.
Four days have passed, and the German couple is stuck. They and thousands of other vacationers have watched the pristine Caribbean vacation spot turn into a hellhole of destroyed houses, hotels, stores and yachts.
Luis tore through the eastern Caribbean, strengthening Thursday to 130 mph in the Atlantic as it moved northwest at about 12 mph. It was expected to turn further north today.
The storm was not expected to endanger the U.S. mainland, but Bermuda has issued a tropical storm watch. The storm was 550 miles south-southwest of Bermuda by 5 a.m. EDT.
Police armed with assault rifles were trying to keep away looters, who pillaged stores Thursday. Tough-looking soldiers were guarding gas stations.
For the vacationers, mostly from Europe and the United States, the tropical island paradise is more like a Third World backwater. Since the hurricane slammed through St. Maarten _ as well as several other islands _ there has been no electricity, no running water, no telephone service and no way out.
The airport was closed to commercial traffic. On Thursday, only flights carrying soldiers, police, rescue workers, aid supplies and journalists were arriving.
``It’s horrible. It’s hell,″ moaned Caroline Mangano, a New Yorker stuck in a traffic jam after finding out she wouldn’t be able to fly out until at least Sunday.
The Marroquins waited with two other couples on a bench outside the airport terminal Thursday, hoping they could hop an empty relief flight out.
What had been an ideal honeymoon for the couple from Lindau, Germany, on this 34 1/2-square-mile island changed radically on Monday when the guests of the beachfront Golden Tulip Hotel were told that Luis was approaching.
The guests retreated to the Belvedere Hotel, on higher ground. When Luis arrived on Tuesday, the Marroquins, like everyone else, had a front-row seat to the destruction.
``We saw pieces of buildings fly past our windows,″ said Marroquin, whose rental car had its windows smashed and hood bashed in during the storm.
The hurricane also flipped trucks over. Shanty-town neighborhoods were demolished. Hundreds of yachts were flung onto piers and beaches or simply sank, with only their masts jutting above the water line like bony white fingers. Also reportedly wrecked was the Stars and Stripes, the boat that won the Americas Cup in 1987.
A Caribbean playground for the well-off had become a very expensive junkyard.
Seven bodies washed up in Simpson Bay. At least two others were reported killed and hundreds were missing on the island, which is split into a Dutch side and a larger French side known as St. Martin.
The winds stripped most of the island’s vegetation except for some palm trees, turning the hills from green to brown overnight.
Yet many buildings were untouched or suffered little damage. A line of new cars stood without a scratch in front of a dealership, while vehicles that had worse luck limped past. Pickup trucks rolled past carrying tanned vacationers, drinking beer and surveying the scene.
Then the holiday-makers went back to their rooms, without air-conditioning, running water or working toilets, to wait for word on when flights out would resume.
``We had a very nice honeymoon,″ Marroquin noted. ``Up until the day we were supposed to leave.″