AN AIRPORT famous for its spectacular plane landings has been destroyed by strong winds as Hurricane Irma moves across the Caribbean.
Pictures have emerged of a flattened Princess Juliana International Airport after winds of up to 297km/h tore through St Martin, a divided island in the Caribbean split between French and Dutch rule.
The airport sits remarkably close to Maho beach in Dutch-controlled Sint Maarten, which has become a popular site for beachgoers to watch planes swoop perilously close to their heads while coming in for landing.
Irma caused huge rocks to smash into planes, at least one of the jet bridges to collapse and sand and debris from Maho beach to be swept onto the runway.
Pictures in the aftermath of the hurricane also showed severe damage to the airport terminal. Inside the airport, the check-in hall had flooded.
Princess Juliana International airport suspended all operations on Tuesday, local time, as Irma approached the island.
“We regret any inconvenience this will cause, but must stress that the safety and security of all is priority number one at SXM Airport,” the airport’s chief operating officer Michel Hyman said.
The nation of St Martin, which is close to Anguilla in the Caribbean, is divided between the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten and the French territory of Saint-Martin.
At least six people have been killed in the French part of the island at the time of publication.
Another person has been killed in the popular tourist island of St Barts, France said.
“The situation in St Martin and St Barts is dramatic — there is no drinking water, electricity, public buildings are unusable, houses have been destroyed,” Guadeloupe prefect Eric Maire said.
In Saint Martin, the prefecture building has been destroyed, and the fire station is out of order. Several roofs have also been blown off at the police station.
Irma first hit Antigua and Barbuda which locals described as “sounding like angry people banging on the shutter and roof while a freight train roared overhead.” Nevertheless, the damage in Antigua wasn’t as devastating.
After moving through Sint Maarten/Saint Martin and St. Barts, Irma is now headed to the Virgin Islands, where Virgin’s Richard Branson is planning on hiding in his Necker Island wine cellar. After passing through Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Orma with then hit Florida over the weekend; Key West is currently being evacuated per a mandatory evacuation.