The Birds Are Going in a Strange Direction

Josianne’s interview was recorded in April 2019 at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House.

Hurricane Donna struck St. Martin on September 4th, 1960. It caused extensive damage and several deaths. Josianne Fleming-Artsen recounted her childhood memories of Hurricane Donna in an interview in 2019:

My name is Josianne Fleming-Artsen. I was born in Aruba because my parents went to Aruba for the Lago oil industry. At that time my father was moving around. Moved from Santo Domingo to Aruba and we were born there. Lago laid off the St. Martin people first who were working in Aruba and so we were to return to St. Martin in 1960.

That was the first time I flew on an airplane. I was maybe seven or eight years old, I think around that age. We came to St. Martin and we landed on this very simple airport. I think that was the first of August, around that time. The hurricane came a month later. That hurricane was Donna.

That was the first experience of us with the hurricane. In those days we had no phones and all of that and no weather reports. My father probably learned a lot when he was at Santo Domingo. He knew about the weather. He knew about birds. He knew about these things.

I remember him being in the garden and it was a very quiet day and there was no breeze; it was like the quiet before the storm and he said, “Something is going to happen.” He was looking up, he said, “The birds are going in a strange direction.” He said he’s going to bar-up the house because he said we have to get ready for weather. That same night around twelve o’clock Hurricane Donna came and destroyed St. Martin.

I remember that night because I was my father’s girl, so my daddy anytime he was up I’m up too. I remember him trying to keep the windows down and the doors that were in between. I was like, “What is going on here?” When we got up the next morning, I remember seeing all the trees were like, no leaves, everything was like a war zone in St. Martin.

I remember every morning, every day, the government brought us food, rations we called it at that time. A big truck would come and you would get water. You would get oil for cooking. You would get flour because flour was a good commodity. You could make your Johnny cakes and you could make bread. Those three things, I remember clearly that we received on a very regular basis.

Fast forwarding, all the repairs that were done were done with jollification. People would help each other repair their roofs, whatever needed to be done. It would be people coming together on a weekend, Saturday and Sunday was to help each other. The owner of the house would then prepare a big pot of food and everybody would chip in and help. That has been going on since I know St. Martin.

Special thanks to the Les Fruits de Mer oral history team: Laura Bijnsdorp, Veronica Duzant, Charlie Gombis and Vida Hodge.

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