From the uninhabitable Barbuda to widespread power outages in the Virgin Islands, islands are limping toward recovery. A report by Julia Belluz for Vox.
There’s a lot of media and political attention focused right now on the devastation Hurricane Maria brought Puerto Rico — and for good reason. The US territory is facing humanitarianand public health crises, with serious shortages of food and potable water, and homes and most hospitals still without power.
But it seems many of us have lost sight of, or entirely forgotten, the fact that Hurricane Maria, and Hurricane Irma before it, walloped several other islands in the Caribbean. From Barbuda, which had to be evacuated and remains uninhabitable, to Dutch St. Martin, where 90 percent of the buildings were damaged, this hurricane season has been brutal. (Dominica, the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and Cuba were also seriously banged up in the storm.)
With their white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, Caribbean islands are travel magnets for tourists from around the world. But they’re also difficult to reach and often poverty-stricken places, where even the wealthiest islanders (in the Bahamas) have a per capita GDP of only $27,000 per year. That’s what makes the islands particularly vulnerable to severe weather events — and what makes their recovery prospects after Irma and Maria worry-inducing. In the conversation about the US government’s woefully slow response to Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million citizens in need, we shouldn’t forget these other islands, too. Here’s a roundup of how the some of the worst-hit islands are faring after the storms.
1) Barbuda’s 1,600 inhabitants still can’t return home after Hurricane Irma forced them to abandon the island: It’s not an overstatement to say that Hurricane Irma annihilated Barbuda, the Caribbean island with 1,600 inhabitants that forms a country along with Antigua southeast of Puerto Rico. “The damage is complete,” Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador Ronald Sanders told Public Radio International. “For the first time in 300 years, there’s not a single living person on the island of Barbuda — a civilization that has existed on that island for over 300 years has now been extinguished.”
Some 95 percent of the islands homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by Irma, prompting islanders to flee. According to the minister of information and broadcasting, the island may not be habitable for at least another two weeks.
2) Hurricane Maria killed 27 people in Dominica — where even the prime minister was left homeless: An island to the east of Puerto Rico, Dominica was also shredded by Maria. Its prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said there’s not a single street that wasn’t damaged by the storm, according to the BBC, and 27 of Dominica’s 73,000 inhabitants were declared dead as a result of the storm, with dozens more missing.
“We have no running water, no electricity, no power, we have very limited communication services,” Skerrit told ABS TV/Radio, who also lost his home in Maria, CNN reportedThursday.
3) In the US Virgin Islands, 48,000 people are still without power: This group of islands — and another US territory — in the Caribbean have been devastated by the one-two punch of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The islands’ governor, Kenneth Mapp, told Here and Now that three of his islands — St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island — were decimated by Irma, and he had been using St. Croix as a base for their recovery. Then Maria came along and hammered St. Croix, too, wrecking 70 percent of the buildings there.
The power was knocked out, and islanders were left to rely on generators, Mapp said. As of September 26, FEMA estimated that there were seven shelters with 621 occupants across the US Virgin Islands, and there are 48,000 people without power. Mapp estimates the cost to repair the damage and rebuild the island’s electrical grid will ring in at $200 million, and he’s been out pleading for help.
4) Irma left 10 Cubans dead and destroyed many of Havana’s fragile buildings: The US State Department is warning Americans to avoid travel to Cuba right now because the country is in major recovery mode following Irma. In Havana, roads were destroyed, buildings collapsed, and power and water services were down. Other parts of the country are still without power and running water, the State Department warned, while the official death toll from Irma stood at 10. There’s an ongoing worry among Cubans that the fragile buildings in Havana will continue to collapse because of the damage left behind by the storm, CNN reported.
5) Irma and Maria collapsed the infrastructure, electricity, and communications lines of the British Virgin Islands: The British Virgin Islands were beaten by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria (though Maria caused less damage than some feared). Still, the collapsed infrastructure and knocked out electricity and communications lines were enough to inspire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson to call for a Marshall Plan to help rebuild the British territory. (His own private island, Necker, was not spared by the storms.) “These hurricanes are causing unimaginable destruction,” Branson wrote on his website.
6) A third of Dutch St. Martin’s buildings were ruined: The Island of St. Martin, which is split into two sides overseen by French and Dutch control, was also walloped by Irma. A third of the buildings on the Dutch side of the island were destroyed, and 90 percent were damaged, according to Reuters. So far, more than a dozen people died as a result of the storm, with hundreds registered as missing.
All of these places will be looking to the United States, the United Nations, and international relief organizations to recover and rebuild after this brutal hurricane season. Want to help? Here’s Vox’s guide to donating to the relief efforts.