By Alita Singh – The Daily Herald
It’s been sixteen days since the humming of The Daily Herald’s printing press permeated the editorial room and I walked out smelling slightly of ink. In the chaos, I think I have forgotten what ink smells like.
Then, I remember as the humming picks up and the inky air drifts in. It is like putting my nose to a new book and inhaling deeply. This is our first newspaper since Hurricane Irma, a category five-plus monster, barrelled across the Atlantic Ocean with her destructive winds.
Getting to Day 16, no surviving to this day, was not imaginable hours after Irma struck St Maarten/St Martin on September 6.
Residents of this 37-square-miles island shared by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of France are no strangers to hurricanes. But, nothing, not even Hurricane Luis, a Category Five that slammed into the island in 1995, could have prepared the minds and eyes for what was to come 22 years later.
Walk back with me to September 5. It was business more or less as usual in hurricane season – people went to work and stopped off at the supermarkets to get last minute necessities before the approaching hurricane.
Night rolled in and the winds picked up and the battle to stay alive superseded everything – minor worries, money troubles, heart break. As roofs were clawed off and homes flooded, it took sheer human determination and strength to brace doors from Irma who came like the big bad wolf, huffing and puffing.
Quiet seeps in; the eye moves slowly over followed by the tailwinds. Soon after, she was gone. Daring to head outside the safe room took courage. The scene outside was nothing but sheer destruction. One task at a time, find neighbours.
The idea of being homeless dawned slowly. Somehow though, it came after the need to start telling the story of what happened here. It was the need to tell our story in our words and not allow it to be told by anyone else.
When ocean waters cutting off my community from the rest of St. Maarten subsided in a few hours after the storm, it was time to find out if the story could be told. Was the newspaper building still standing? Could a newspaper even be made?
The drive from home to the office was beyond heart-breaking. How could we come back from this?
The building was still there so was the press. There was electricity driven by a generator and … behold … internet access. That was the instant I become an online journalist. I was a print journalist up until that moment. The Daily Herald now existed on online and was a portal for some many seeking any morsel of information about the island.
From the moment I logged on to Facebook and Gmail, there was no more time to think about anything but attending to the desperate requests for news about loved ones. Each of us, survivors all, put aside lost roof, need for water and focused on those our profession called us to put first our community.
We lived online these 16 days; posting as soon as we received info. But, tonight I listened as the press started her sweet lullaby and I leave my desk for the first time in two weeks with an answer to the constant question: “But Alita, when all yuh printin’ again?”
Who says print is dead? Not even mean Tanty Irma. Not she self!
Note: The Daily Herald has since returned to the streets of Sint Maarten.