As the worst of Hurricane Irma departed Antigua and Barbuda early Wednesday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne boasted that “no other country in the Caribbean would have been as well prepared as we were.” The problem with this statement, as he later acknowledged, was that Barbuda was left “barely habitable.”
Barbuda sustained damage to about 95 percent of all properties there, Browne told local media after flying over the island. Aerial footage showed homes with entire walls blown out and entire roofs ripped away. Those who lived through it described a night of pure terror.
“I felt like crying,” Browne said after seeing the destruction, “but crying will not help.”
As Irma continues a merciless churn toward the U.S. mainland, those first islanders left in its wake are only beginning to decipher the scope of devastation — or, in some fortunate cases, a surprising paucity thereof.
Barbuda. Anguilla. St. Martin. St. Barthelemy.
These jurisdictions are part of the Leeward Islands, a vulnerable, isolated chain arcing southeast from Puerto Rico. As night fell Wednesday, and people took stock of what’s been lost, there was confusion, desperation and worsening fear that another hurricane, Jose, which already has formed in the Atlantic, appears to be coming for them, too.
On Thursday and Friday, it will be others’ turn to make sense of the damage wrought by Irma, only to look ahead at what Jose may have in store.
To the west, Irma raked the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where nearly 1 million people were without electricity Wednesday night. The Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands are next in its path. Closer to Florida’s southern tip, the Bahamas remain in danger, and mass evacuations are underway.
The United Nations has said Irma, a historic Category 5 storm, could affect as many as 37 million people.
At 5 a.m. Thursday, when the National Hurricane Center offered its latest update, officials offered this ominous bulletin about Jose:
“…JOSE A LITTLE STRONGER…”
The looming storm now has sustained wind speeds nearing 90 miles per hour with even stronger gusts. Its potency is forecast to grow over the next 48 hours. “Interests in the Leeward Islands should monitor the progress of Jose. Hurricane and Tropical Storm Watches will likely be
required for portions of these islands later this morning.”
Of Barbuda’s 1,400 residents, about 60 percent are homeless, Browne told the Associated Press. The prime minister has vowed to evacuate everyone there to Antigua ahead of Jose’s arrival.
To the south, in the French territories of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, at least eight people have died. Ghastly images, captured on mobile phones and circulated on social media, showed cars and trucks almost completely submerged in the storm surge, and several buildings in ruin.
French President Emmanuel Macron said it’s still too soon to determine how many victims there may be. He has dispatched the country’s overseas territories minister, Annick Girardin, who told reporters while en route to the region that evacuations may be necessary, the BBC reported.
In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, the local government is “overwhelmed” and desperate for help, Attorney General John McKendrick told The Washington Post late Wednesday. Officials were barely able to communicate among one another and with emergency response teams, he said. With most lines down, they were dependent on instant messaging.
It appears at least one person has died in Anguilla, McKendrick said.
“Roads blocked, hospital damaged. Power down. Communications badly impaired. Help needed,” he wrote in one message. In another, McKendrick said, “More people might die without further help, especially as another hurricane threatens us so soon.”
Jose remains deep in the central Atlantic for now, but as it gathered strength Wednesday, forecasters said it’s expected to become a dangerous Category 3 hurricane by Friday. It’s possible the storm could approach the same islands this weekend.
The United Kingdom’s international development secretary, Priti Patel, announced Wednesday that the British navy, along with several Royal Marines and a contingent of military engineers, had been dispatched to the Caribbean with makeshift shelters and water purification systems. While some in England criticized the response, McKendrick told The Post that he’s worried they, too, will quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of work that must be done to restore a sense of normalcy.
Elsewhere on Anguilla, some informal reports were less bleak. The Facebook page for Roy’s Bayside Grill, for instance, remained active as Irma passed.
Around 7:30 a.m., the page broadcast a brief live video, about a minute of footage of the storm captured from inside an unidentified building. With rain pelting the windows and wind whipping the treetops back and forth, a narrator calmly describes the scene outside. “Can’t see very far at all,” he says. “We’ve got whitecaps on the pool. Water is spilling out. And it’s quite a ride. But thought I’d check in and let everyone know we’re still good.”
Phone lines to the restaurant appeared to be down by the afternoon, and messages left with the Facebook page’s administrator were not immediately returned.
At 1 p.m., a panoramic photo appeared showing several buildings. The decking on one appeared to be ripped apart, and debris was scattered about the beach. One industrial building had a hole in its roof, but by and large everything was still standing.
“We made it through,” the caption reads, “but there is a lot of work to be done.”
— Newshub Ireland (@NewshubIreland) September 7, 2017
This post has been updated.