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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Barbuda evacuated as Hurricane Irma aid effort gathers pace


All 1,600 inhabitants of hurricane-ravaged Barbuda have been moved to the larger and less severely affected island of Antigua. With no water or power available, 95% houses uninhabitable and food running out, the government had no alternative but to clear the island completely. All available boats and aircraft were used to get people off the wrecked island before the arrival of a second hurricane, José, which is expected to pass over the same area.

Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Gaston Browne said that the whole island will have to be rebuilt and is appealing for help from friendly countries. “We’ve done as much as we possibly can as a small country with very limited resources,” said Ronald Sanders, A&B’s ambassador to the USA. While other Caribbean countries have done what they can, said Sanders, “The large international countries have not done anything.”

Hurricane Irma has also caused extensive damage in the British Virgin Islands, where a state of emergency has been declared, and in Turks and Caicos Islands. Many houses have been flattened in BVI and efforts are being made to find accommodation for people made homeless. Fortunately, the hurricane changed track slightly and the low-lying islands of the Bahamas archipelago were spared the feared storm surges. The huge storm – said to be the size of Florida – is now heading for Miami, where 5.6 million people have been told to get out immediately.

The UK government has stepped up its £32 million aid and reconstruction effort, but has come under fire for its slow response. Unlike France, the Netherlands and the USA, Britain has no permanent base in the Caribbean and everything has to be shipped or flown thousands of miles.

On Friday, an aircraft left RAF Brize Norton with 30 Marines and supplies for Anguilla, where the landscape is said to look a First World War battlefield. Ninety per cent of government and commercial buildings have been damaged and water and power supplies disrupted.

The main aid effort will be delivered by ship. The Royal Navy’s logistics vessel RFA Mounts Bay – the only British aid ship in the Caribbean – has docked at Anguilla, bringing a specialist disaster relief team and heavy lifting equipment, plus shelters for those who have lost their homes. Engineers are repairing a leak at the island’s main fuel depot and will restore power to the hospital.

Dutch ships have delivered supplies to Sint Maarten, where widespread looting has been reported. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the territory lacks power, gas and running water. “Houses are underwater, cars float through the streets. Residents are in the dark, in ruined houses,” he said.

The USA is using warships (including an aircraft carrier), helicopters, cargo aircraft and 1,000 marines to deliver relief materials to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, where the roof of Government House was torn off, and power lines and phone masts blown down.

Many charities are raising funds and ready to deliver help to the affected communities, including Global Giving, Hope for Haiti, Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children and UNICEF.

The unfolding disaster has touched many people around the world. British businessman Steve Morgan has given almost £760,000 to the Barbuda Relief Fund. Scotiabank has donated US$500,000, half of which will go to the Canadian Red Cross.

Caribbean countries have been quick to show solidarity with their neighbours. CARICOM chairman, Dr the Rt Hon Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, said: “I extend condolences to the family of the deceased and to the governments and peoples of the countries. It is almost impossible to assess the human cost of disasters such as these.” CARICOM’s disaster agency CDEMA is co-ordinating relief efforts in the region.

While many larger countries merely issued statements of support, Venezuela sent an aircraft to Antigua with 20 firefighters, 34 civil defence personnel and 10 tons of supplies and medicines for the displaced residents of Barbuda.