By Stephen Spark
Antigua and Barbuda | Thursday 7 September 2017: 2:02 BST
Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, is reported to have “devastated” Barbuda on Wednesday. According to the government on Wednesday, “a significant number of the houses have been totally destroyed”. The larger sister island of Antigua survived relatively unscathed.Initially, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua & Barbuda assured the country, “Our people are safe, our country is secure and our piece of paradise remains open to be shared by people from all over the world.” Tourism minister Asot Michael said that hotels on Antigua suffered only minimal damage and all visitors were safe. He said: “The essential point is that our main infrastructure has stood up and our country can resume normal life within hours.”Fears for Barbuda’s 1,650 population grew when all communication with the island was lost after the 185mph, Category 5 storm made landfall. Later on Wednesday PM Browne surveyed Barbuda by helicopter. He reported that at least one person has died and 95% of structures on the island have been destroyed.Governor General HE Sir Rodney Williams commended the A&B government for its “decisive action” and private citizens for taking “individual responsibility” to protect their families and property. He ended his message by saying, “God is in control of man and nature – he calmed the storm and parted the Red Sea. We have been given another chance.” However, Barbuda’s infrastructure has been wrecked and the island is now said to be “barely habitable”.Also seriously affected are the French island of St Barts and the shared Dutch/French island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. Six people are known to have died and several more injured in the French territories. Buildings have been reduced to rubble, vessels in port wrecked and many areas have been affected by severe flooding and power cuts. A senator from St Barts reported: “The island is devastated. It is apocalyptic, a lot of damage, many roofs destroyed.”Fears are growing for the low-lying islands of the Bahamas archipelago, which could be swamped by storm surges. Six of the country’s southern islands have been cleared in what PM Hubert Minnis called “the largest such evacuation in the history of the country”. The hurricane has also caused havoc on the British Virgin Islands (where Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson took refuge in his wine cellar) and Turks and Caicos.Clear-up efforts may be disrupted if Hurricane Jose strikes the same area at the end of the week. According to forecasting service AccuWeather, its path may pass over the Leeward Islands, including the BVI. Another weather system, Tropical Storm Katia, strengthened into a hurricane on Wednesday and is expected to hit the Gulf of Mexico.