French rescue teams heading to the island of St. Martin on Friday.
A report by Azam Ahmed for the New York Times.
As communications started to be restored to the storm-ravaged islands of the Caribbean, five deaths were reported from the British Virgin Islands, raising the toll across the Caribbean to 25 people as the islands braced for yet another storm set to strike as early as Saturday afternoon.
The new hurricane, Jose, is expected to wreak less damage than Hurricane Irma, whose passage through the eastern Caribbean left a wake of destruction that could take years to settle, leveling 90 percent of the buildings on some islands. But it has created a new problem in an already troubled recovery effort: The impending storm has halted all aid to the most affected areas because of safety concerns.
That will leave thousands of people who are already stranded and stripped of their possessions waiting several more days for much-needed aid. And officials worry that the number of dead could rise, as the full extent of the devastation becomes known.
“I’ve been working in the Caribbean for 10 years, and this is the first time I have seen a situation like this,” said Raphael Hamoir, the emergency coordinator for the French Red Cross in the region. “We are talking about existing devastation from a Category 5 hurricane, and right as we are starting the relief operation, we have another hurricane coming.”
Residents and visitors to the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy were left stranded by the storm. Many are in need of food and water, roads have yet to be cleared and power is out across much of the area.
It could be days before rescue workers can fully assess the extent of the aid needed — and losses inflicted — by both storms.
“That is not only stopping all of the work we began in the last few days,” Mr. Hamoir said, referring to Hurricane Jose. “It means we will have to start everything over again in three days.”
Across a band of the Caribbean islands, aid workers had been racing to get supplies to populations stripped of practically everything. By early Saturday, in a rare bit of good news, it looked as if some of the hardest hit islands, like Antigua and Barbuda, would avoid the worst of Jose, as the storm’s course looked set to bypass them.
The United States Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, along with Antigua, dropped their hurricane warnings to tropical storm watches, while Barbuda and Anguilla downgraded their warnings by Saturday afternoon.
St. Martin and St. Barthélemy two of the islands ravaged by Irma, also downgraded their hurricane warnings to a tropical storm watch by Saturday evening. The National Hurricane Center still expected two to four inches of rain to fall on the area.
The full damage from Irma has not yet been calculated, but the early estimates are grim: The islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy, were approximately 80 to 90 percent destroyed; for Antigua, Barbuda and Anguilla, the figures are similar.
On the island of St. Barthélemy, from where little news had emerged in recent days, some hope emerged late on Saturday.
“People here are working wonderfully together to help each other out,” said Arun Inam, 54, who lives on the island part time. “Strength, support and kindness is on full display in the streets.”
“I had the option of leaving,” he added, “but decided to stay out of support for my friends that live here.”
In Cuba, Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage on Friday night when the eye of the storm passed directly north of the provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila in the central part of the island. The authorities have not yet made a substantive announcement about the extent of the damage to the area, where more than 50 hotels and resorts generate significant revenue for a nation that is short of cash.
Damage to these resorts, along with heavy agricultural losses and reconstruction costs elsewhere in the country, will be a major economic strain on the country.
Residents woke up Saturday morning to see whole houses destroyed, and roofs ripped off warehouses. The few images trickling in, however, suggest that the destruction in Cuba is not as cataclysmic as it is on islands elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The island of Guadeloupe, which was spared by Hurricane Irma, has become a staging ground for aid efforts, with hundreds of largely French rescue workers using it as an operational hub.
The French relief operation has been one of starts and, for now, stops, but efforts to help those on the British Virgin Islands have only just begun. Interviews with a half-dozen people trapped on the island of Tortola, home to about 25,000 people, offer a snapshot of desperation.
Buildings were leveled, once lush and verdant hillsides were reduced to barren stumps and roads were washed away. Several residents reported that people were scavenging food and water from shops on some of the islands.
At least five deaths have been reported, according to Gus Japsert, governor of the British Virgin Islands. He urged citizens to take the incoming storm seriously.
“The communities are pulling together and supporting each other,” he said in a phone interview.
The British government said it had sent 20 tons of aid to the affected areas, including shelter kits and solar lanterns, aboard a naval ship that has already arrived in the British Virgin Islands.
Catherine Clayton, whose family owns a hotel in Josiah’s Bay, said 25 people, including neighbors whose homes were destroyed, were sheltering in the two rooms that were still habitable in the eight-room Tamarind Hotel.
By Saturday morning, there had been no aid deliveries to her portion of the island.
“We have enough fresh water for all of us to survive for two weeks, if we ration,” she said. “Same for food.”
In the United States Virgin Islands, the death toll has reached four, so far. But communications remain spotty there. Many suspect that the number of dead will climb.
Residents worry that with attention turning to Florida, where Hurricane Irma will make landfall on Sunday, those living on the devastated islands will be forgotten.
“The fear has always been, if we have a hit like what we have now, and the U.S. gets a serious hit, we will be completely forgotten,” said Brigitte Berry, whose family hails from St. Thomas.
For now, many islanders feel trapped.
“We can’t get into a car and drive out of here,” she said. “And all of the boats have been destroyed.”
While Hurricane Jose is not expected to strike the British Virgin Islands or the United States Virgin Islands, other islands that will be directly affected by the second storm are bracing for the worst.
Eze Egwuatu was vacationing on St. Martin when Hurricane Irma hit, tearing the roof off the house he was staying in. As Hurricane Jose approached the island on Saturday, Mr. Egwuatu sheltered with friends at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine in St. Maarten, on the Dutch side of the island.
“The military already came this morning and evacuated 50 women and children,” Mr. Egwuatu said, via text message, from the shelter on Saturday. “We are just holed up at the shelter waiting for evacuation.”
The university, as well as the rest of the island, is still working to determine how stranded students and members of the community will be evacuated once Hurricane Jose passes.
“There is obvious and growing concern about the evacuation, and I want to address those concerns,” wrote Dr. Heidi Chumley, dean of the university, in a message on the school’s website. “They are different options, but each has its own challenges including, as you know, a closed airport, very difficult seas and another approaching hurricane.”
Across the Caribbean another storm, Hurricane Katia, made landfall in Mexico’s Gulf Coast state of Veracruz early Saturday and caused two deaths, according to the state’s governor, Miguel Ángel Yunes.