Irma Shakes Caribbean

Hurricane Irma’s record-breaking winds devastated millions of Caribbean residents, leaving many homeless and without electrical power. The Category 5 storm, which made landfall in the region on September 5, caused 43 deaths in the Caribbean alone.

The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda suffered the first blow from the hurricane. Irma left 95 percent of structures on 68-square-mile Barbuda damaged and its 1,800 residents homeless. Locals have been evacuated to Antigua, and the only inhabitants in the island are abandoned pets and animals.

“You feel devastated after a storm like that,” said John Thomas, a 47-year-old Barbudan. “I am feeling slightly better now, but what makes me sad is there is no home to go back to.”

Despite the $100-million price of rebuilding the island’s homes and infrastructure, many Barbudans are set on returning to their island.

Continuing its path through the Caribbean, Irma also directly affected the island of St. Martin. The storm destroyed airports and seaports and knocked out the power and water systems. Due to the lack of electricity and phone service, many residents were left feeling isolated, desperate, and even trapped because they were unable to leave the island. A disintegration of law and order also took place as tensions between residents rose over the small amount of food and water left.

The U.S. Virgin Islands also suffered a similar blow. Elizabeth Smith, a resident of St. Croix, described the situation: “No power, no running water, no cell service. The only hospital in St. Thomas faced catastrophic failure during the storm.”

Residents of St. John have had to walk miles to reach food pantries to pick ready-to-eat-meals provided by American military helicopters because most of the roads are impassable.

“This is a horrific disaster,” U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp told reporters. “There will be no restorations or solutions in days or weeks.”

When it comes to the Greater Antilles, Irma did not leave extensive damage, with Cuba receiving the hardest blow. El Vocero described post-Irma Cuba as having telecommunications towers on the ground, trees on the roads, homes destroyed, a lot of debris and lumber, and floods with waves up to 20 feet.

In Puerto Rico, the main issue has been the loss of electricity, as 70 percent of residents were left in the dark. The storm shed light on an ongoing infrastructure issue the island has been dealing with for years. According to residents, the electrical grid started faltering hours before the storm even reached Puerto Rico.

Even though the overall effect to Puerto Rico was manageable and less extreme than other affected islands, smaller rural regions of the island did suffer devastating losses. In the town of Loíza, 79 families were left without homes. The small island of Culebra, part of the Puerto Rican archipelago, was flattened.

Privileged to have skirted Irma’s worst, Puerto Ricans have taken charge to offer as much humanitarian help as they can. Many have sailed on their private boats to take supplies to the neighboring islands of St. Thomas, Barbuda, St. John, Tortola, and St. Martin, reports the New Day.  

"These calls for assistance that we are receiving from the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Maarten show that the government of Puerto Rico is a leader in emergency-management in the Caribbean region," said Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Carlos Mercader.

Thousands of refugees have also arrived in Puerto Rico where the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has coordinated to transport sick patients. Despite receiving many natives of the Caribbean, many of the refugees that have managed to receive help are not residents of the Virgin Islands. Instead, most have been Americans who happened to be in the Caribbean when the hurricane struck.

The Caribbean is no stranger to hurricanes. Irma’s effects, however, have shown it to be one of the biggest storms to hit the Atlantic. It will take a long time for islands that were once viewed as tourist destinations to rebuild. Many in the U.S. Virgin Islands fear that the media will focus on the mainland U.S. and that they will be left to deal with the issue on their own.

Despite the devastating environment, there is an air of hope in the region. People from all over the world have shown solidarity by creating awareness, raising money, and sending resources.