CABARET, Haiti — After the near-annihilation of tiny Barbuda by Hurricane Irma, its 1,700 evacuated residents took shelter on its sister island of Antigua, hunkering down in government buildings and residential homes as Hurricane Jose approached.
But the island nation caught a lucky break as Jose turned and missed both islands, Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador to the United States from Antigua and Barbuda, said Saturday. Not that a hit on Barbuda could have done much more damage on the now-desolate island. Updated surveys had indicated that nearly 100 of its buildings had been damaged or destroyed, Sanders said.
“Jose would have only added to the debris,” he said. “There’s no one there now. It’s like a scene from winter without snow. No grass. No trees. It is just rubble. We now have refugees from Barbuda in Antigua, and will have to sustain their lives for months, probably years, as we rebuild.”
The powerful tropical cyclone, which was barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, has weakened within the past 12 hours but remains a dangerous Category 4 storm, officials said. Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm is expected to pass north of the northern Leeward Islands later on Saturday. That’s down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm.
Forecasters say the storm is expected to gradually weaken over the next couple of days after it passes the northern Leeward Islands. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also suffered heavy damage during Irma.
Signs of Jose’s weakening came Saturday afternoon, when warnings were gradually lifted.
Alerts for Barbuda, Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts, have been downgraded from a hurricane storm warning to a tropical storm warning. The island of Anguilla is also under a tropical storm warning.
The islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius are no longer under a tropical storm warning. Tropical storm watch alerts for Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Thomas and St. John of the U.S. Virgin Islands have all been discontinued.
Still, Sint Maarten, a territory of the Kingdom of Netherlands, was left vulnerable after Irma damaged or destroyed 70 percent of homes there, Dutch officials said.
The alarming announcement of another massive hurricane comes as military personnel and emergency responders from the United States and Europe rush to aid those still reeling from Irma, which roared across the same region as a Category 5 storm on Wednesday.
On the devastated island of Barbuda, authorities and private tour operators scrambled to evacuate the remainder of its residents to nearby Antigua. A poor, impoverished and indebted nation, Sanders said his country would reach out for international aid for a reconstruction effort that could take years and cost $150 million or more. He said the United States has yet to pledge help.
“We have reached out for assistance to the U.S., but I’ve been told they could not promise anything because, I suppose, they have challenges of their own in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We will have to look to the broader international community,” he said.
Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda, described Barbuda as though it were a tropical ghost town of broken buildings and fallen trees.
“It’s uninhabitable. I would literally say that 100 percent of the infrastructure is gone. Light, water, communication, it’s a total blackout,” Joseph said.
There was only one fatality on the island — a 2-year-old boy identified Friday as Carl Junior Francis. He was found by neighbors the day prior, having been swept away by storm surge as Irma pounded the island and ripped off the roof of his family’s home, the Associated Press reported.
“It was a miracle that there was only one death,” Joseph said.
On Antigua, evacuees were hunkered down and preparing for Jose’s possible hit.
“People are worried, when they see images of Barbuda, that it could be Antigua next,” Joseph said.
In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, Irma’s fury left homes and businesses shattered across the 16-mile island. Local officials pleaded with residents Friday to take all precautions ahead of Jose to ensure their survival, and they encouraged people to quickly clear existing debris so it could be removed and battened down, as not to pose a threat during the next wave of dangerous weather.
With telecommunication services severed, police traveled the island’s neighborhoods Friday to relay what information they had about Jose’s path, said Patrick Lynch, who operates Roy’s Bayside Grill. Reached Friday afternoon via Facebook, he seemed unaware the storm had reached such ferocious strength.
Though badly damaged, the restaurant was planning to open Friday and serve limited lunch and dinner items. “People need a place to go, connect, talk about what has happened and feel normal for an hour or two,” Lynch said, “so we’re going to try and provide that.
In closing, he wrote: “Please keep Anguilla in the news, the destruction is island-wide. The people here are good and friendly. … It is a jewel in the Caribbean, and it needs help.”
The U.S. military has dispatched five warships, as well as helicopters, cargo planes, National Guard troops and thousands of pounds of supplies to help hurricane victims.
The military will provide generators, fuel and gas, water-purification systems and tools to clear roads choked with storm debris, according to the U.S. Northern Command. The Army Corps of Engineers sent teams to U.S. territories to help restore electricity, and National Guard personnel were activated to help with evacuations and search-and-rescue efforts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency spoke of a “complete power/communications collapse” in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but people trapped there have become frustrated and despondent.
Amy Larson, who runs a charter-boat business in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said she has been in Florida as her husband weathered Irma’s wrath on St. John. In tears, she said, “People are very concerned. They want to get off the island. They need supplies. They don’t feel like anybody is giving them any sort of attention.”
France and the Netherlands also moved to respond to some of Irma’s worst destruction on St. Martin, an island they share, and St. Barts, a French overseas territory. The French government deployed 455 police, military and other personnel on Friday, with double that number expected by Saturday.
The presence was partly to restore public order and combat a wave of looting. Using Guadeloupe as a base, French officials were dispatching military helicopters and civilian aircraft with food, water and medical supplies.
Yet Jose could quickly jeopardize those relief efforts, authorities warned.
“My concern today is that because of Hurricane Jose, we are going to have another period in which transport won’t be operating,” the French health minister, Agnès Buzyn, told French TV. Kenneth E. Mapp, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said that Jose’s rain and winds could linger through Sunday or Monday.
At the White House on Friday, President Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, indicated the U.S. had begun evacuating American citizens from the French and Dutch sides of St. Martin ahead of Jose.
Gretchen and Peter Bogacz have been hunkered down since Wednesday at St. Martin’s Hotel L’Esplanade. With no power or running water, they were desperate for information about whether assistance was on the way.
The couple had been heading back to Florida after celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary on the nearby island of Saba. Once Irma cleared St. Martin, they used their intermittent cell service to text relatives back in the United States for help in figuring out how to get home.
But with the airport seriously damaged, there was no way out.
“Now it seems we are trapped on this island,” Gretchen Bogacz wrote in a text message to The Post Friday afternoon. “Food is okay for now but will be getting low in a few days. Doesn’t help to know another … hurricane is heading this way.”
In the British Virgin Islands, residents said they lacked information on aid and relief efforts. Communications were mostly down and many roads were blocked with vehicles, telephone poles, metal roof material and other debris.
Freeman Rogers, editor of the weekly BVI Beacon newspaper and a resident of Road Town, the territory’s capital, said that people at shelters were running low on food and water, clean clothes and medical supplies. He described a sense of frustration about the response by the British government. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that British military personnel have been working “round the clock” to provide relief to the battered islands.
Rogers said residents were most concerned about whether Hurricane Jose would cause further damage.
“People don’t have roofs,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’d be really rough if we got hit with another big hurricane.”
Irma, meanwhile, continued to push west, making landfall in Cuba around 11 p.m. Eastern Friday and gaining strength on its march toward the Bahamas and, eventually, Florida.
The Cuban government moved hundreds of thousands of people away from cities and towns along the coast in preparation for Irma, including some 36,000 tourists from hotels and beach resorts that are likely to be pounded.
While Havana is expected to be spared the worst of Irma’s wrath, cities such as Ciego de Avila and Santa Clara in the island’s central provinces appear at risk of significant damage. State media showed images Friday of soldiers and Cuban civil defense brigades moving residents into shelters.
The government said it had prepared at least 39 caves for use as emergency shelters. Children and elderly residents could be seen in them, eating sandwiches and snacks in the near-darkness.
“People are being quite orderly in terms of leaving their homes and going to safer shelters,” said Richard Paterson, the Cuba representative for Care International in Havana.
And as the rains diminished over vulnerable Haiti, residents and aid organizations began to assess the damage.
In the city of Cabaret, 16 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, Miracle Lafontant, 82, wearily exited her inundated home midday Friday in a ripped and muddied white nightgown.
A devout Christian, she’s a rice farmer who has taken in three orphans — including a teenage girl who lost her mother last year in Hurricane Matthew.
“I was in bed, and I heard, ‘Mommy, wake up, the water is coming in!’ ” Lafontant said. “I got out of bed, but before I could get out the door, it was already up to here,” she said, indicating her upper abdomen.
Behind her home, fields of banana trees and sugar cane obscured rows of flooded houses.
“The storm, she took all my church clothes, ruined,” Lafontant said. “What am I going to wear to church now?”
“But I’m not scared. I am never scared,” she said. “The Lord Jesus Christ was there with me last night.”
Phillips, Bever and deGrandpre reported from Washington. Nick Miroff, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Matea Gold in Washington; Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela; and Annabell Van den Berghe in Brussels contributed to this report, which has been updated.