“What we experienced is like something you see in a horror movie…cars flying over our heads…40-foot containers flying left and right…persons were literally tying themselves to their roofs with ropes.” Shared a visibly shaken resident of Barbuda, recounting her experience to the ABS (Antigua/Barbuda Broadcasting Services) Television/Radio when the “most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean” – Hurricane Irma, ravaged the island Wednesday morning.
A two-year-old infant, was Barbuda’s only casualty as Irma’s high winds flattened the island, with Prime Minister Gaston Browne saying 90% of buildings have been destroyed and 60% of the population of around 1,400 people left homeless.
A communication tower was ripped in half as Irma destroyed critical infrastructure including roads, phone services and water. Prime Minister Browne upon observing the ruins overhead said “What I saw was heart-wrenching – I mean, absolutely devastating.” The recovery effort is set to take months or years, with Prime Minister Browne estimating the cost in the range of $150 million. A voluntary evacuation notice has been issued by the government from Barbuda to Antigua – where damage was less severe – as part of relief efforts and ahead of the prospective arrival of Hurricane Jose this weekend.
The category five hurricane has also claimed the life of one person in Anguilla. “One Anguilla resident told the BBC the island looked as if it had been struck by a nuclear bomb, with roofs torn off many of the main buildings, including the hospital.” The Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson, stated that “police stations, hospitals, school facilities, three or four emergency shelters, a home for the infirm and the aged, as well as the fire station”, along with many homes, had been damaged or destroyed. The tourist board said major resorts on the island had withstood the onslaught and the airport and two ports were closed. U.K. Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan described the damage as “severe and in places critical” and has pledged and dispatched aid in the form of: “£12 million, and a navy ship RFA Mounts Bay, with four humanitarian experts and aid flights on standby.”
A public health emergency has been declared in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) “where critical facilities, as well as homes, businesses and supermarkets, have been devastated…and areas of land entirely stripped of vegetation”. Tortola, the main island, suffered extensive damage with images showing “charter boats piled randomly into the corners of bays.”
Other CARICOM Member States that were “spared the full brunt” of Irma were St Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat which was just “swiped” by the hurricane.
CARICOM States that are still expected to be hit by the Hurricane are Haiti where it is estimated that up to three million people could be affected with some people in coastal areas ignoring orders to evacuate as the country still works to recover from last year’s passage of Hurricane Matthew. The Turks and Caicos Islands also lie directly in the hurricane’s predicated path, with the low-lying region running the risk of a storm surge with destructive waves up to 6m (20ft) higher than usual. The Bahamas has been evacuating people from six islands in the south to the capital, Nassau, in the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history, according to Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.