17 C
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Second hurricane spares Caribbean as islands count cost of Irma


After Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc last week, leaving 25 people dead, scores injured and thousands homeless, Hurricane José has veered northwards and spared the eastern Caribbean a second wave of destruction. However, with power and water supplies disrupted, schools, hospitals, homes and businesses wrecked, local authorities are wondering how they will ever be able to afford to rebuild their infrastructure and economies.

In Anguilla, Rhonda Connor, chief education officer for UNICEF Eastern Caribbean, said “Everybody is lamenting. We are relieved to be alive, but still there is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.”

Nisha Dupuis, the 19-year-old reporter who kept broadcasting for Radio Anguilla despite the storm nearly demolishing the studio, said in an interview with The Guardian: “Everything was destroyed, everything was flattened.” She added: “We’ve just celebrated our 50-year anniversary and I feel like now we have to say: ‘OK, we start again; we have to rebuild all of that’.” Connor noted: “We will need some financial aid, definitely.”

When, if ever, they will receive it is the next big question. Antigua & Barbuda estimates it may need US$150 million to repair the damage caused by Irma. Currently, it owes the International Monetary Fund US$3 million, but despite the country’s desperate state the IMF is not prepared to discuss any rescheduling of repayments. The USA has reportedly told Antigua & Barbuda not to rely on it for help. Trinidad & Tobago said it will focus any assistance it may give on Caricom countries. Acting PM Colm Imbert said that T&T can no longer afford to give the sort of generous aid it was able to provide in the past, though it may loan a helicopter to Antigua.

The main response so far has come from impoverished Venezuela, which has flown supplies and emergency personnel to Antigua, while Cuba – badly affected by the hurricane itself has sent a medical brigade. Medical intervention is vital, because of the risk of mosquitoes spreading dengue fever, yellow fever and the zika virus.

The international community has shown more interest in the consequences for the British Virgin Islands. Like other affected territories, roads are impassable, power is off, water is scarce, phone lines are down and homes are uninhabitable. Although four people were killed, the real cause for alarm is the difficulty the power outages are causing BVI’s more than 1 million tax-dodging companies, many of which are household names across the world.

Over in French Saint-Martin, thoughts have turned to the psychological trauma hurricane victims may be undergoing. News agency AFP quoted psychologist Michèle Vitry as saying that when the hurricane struck many people were thrown into “an imminent death experience”.

On top of the shock is the feeling of insecurity brought about by looting on Saint-Martin and nearby St Barts. To try to restore order, the French authorities have drafted in hundreds of soldiers and police and imposed a traffic ban – a curfew in all but name – between 7pm and 7am. The Dutch authorities have also poured soldiers into their half of the twin-state island to quell a similar outbreak of looting. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands is due to visit Curação, Sint Maarten, St Eustatius (Statia) and Saba in the next few days.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship Adventure of the Seas docked at Sint Maarten’s port on Sunday. Although the island is normally a popular call for cruise ships, the vessel was bringing humanitarian aid and evacuating US tourists. Other RCCL cruise ships are ready to provide assistance to the US Virgin Islands and the Florida Keys.

The UK government has been taken to task for being slow to respond to the disaster, with critics comparing the British emergency response unfavourably with the French. However, France has also come under fire for failing to deal properly with the crisis. “I am angry with Paris and its crisis management,” said one local official, while deputies blasted their country for a “completely inadequate” response to the crisis in the Caribbean.