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Hurricane Irma

Much of Barbuda island in the Caribbean gone after being hit by Hurricane Irma

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 8:44am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 3:27pm

Once there was an island known as Barbuda; after Hurricane Irma, much of it is gone.

Hurricane Irma has decimated the small Caribbean island of Barbuda, ripping apart buildings, uprooting trees and killing at least one person as its 185mph winds swept across the two-island nation best known for its pristine sandy beaches.

“Barbuda is totally destroyed,” Roderick Faustin, first secretary for the embassy of Antigua and Barbuda in Washington told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “At least 95 per cent of the properties in Barbuda are either totally destroyed or damaged.”

The schools, sole hospital and airport, and two hotels on the island of 68 square miles were either damaged or lay in ruins, Faustin said. There is no running water and telephone service is out after the communications tower was literally snapped in half.

“Hurricane Irma would have been easily the most powerful hurricane to have stormed through the Caribbean, and unfortunately Barbuda was in its path,” a grim-faced Prime Minister Gaston Browne told ABS TV in Antigua on Wednesday after flying over Barbuda. The island of 1,800 to 2,000 people was “barely habitable,” he said.

“It was heart-wrenching, absolutely devastating,” Browne later told CNN. “I have never seen any such destruction.”

Officials said a child was fatally injured as its mother was trying to evacuate a damaged property.

“But when you look at the extent of the devastation, I’m surprised that we did not have any more fatalities,” Browne said. “That in itself would have come from high level of preparedness. But the monstrosity that this storm was, anything that would have been in its path evidently would have suffered the wrath of that storm.”

With the runway of Barbuda’s airport damaged, neighbouring Antigua will be used as hub from which helicopters and boats would depart to ferry relief supplies to Barbuda, officials said.

Faustin said the government was mobilising private citizens with vessels to carry food, drinking water, medical supplies and other material to Barbuda. The country’s defence force had already been deployed to help restore communications and other infrastructure.

“We are also looking to evacuate those residents who are injured or sick and elderly to Antigua,” Faustin said. It was unclear how many people that would entail, he said.

Others residents, who took shelter by the score in the few municipal structures and other sturdy buildings that survived, could also soon need to leave the island, officials said.

Another hurricane, Jose, is currently churning in the Atlantic and could threaten Barbuda.

Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda, told CNN on Thursday that “the decision has been made already that if this continues there’ll be full evacuation of all persons in Barbuda.”

Despite the scale of the disaster, Faustin said the people of the twin island nation remained resolute in the face of what lies ahead.

“Hurricanes are nothing new to us,” he said. “We do our best. We prepare ourselves to survive and rebuild. We are resilient people. We have encountered a lot and we are prepared to repair, rebuild the island and move on.”