Hurricane Irma came and there was some preparedness in the region for what was said to be one of the worst hurricanes in recent times. But no one could have predicted the catastrophic damage of the storm that tore a path of destruction in the Leeward Islands and is careening down to Florida, US.
It is being described as Atlantic’s most deadly storm in history with 13 persons confirmed killed.
The United Nations estimates that up to 37 million people could be affected by the category five hurricane, which took a swipe at the British territory of Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday night.
Flattened and unlikely to be habitable for a while was Barbuda, the sister island of Antigua, that has been struggling in recent times. Irma has sent the island back years now. Another hurricane, Jose, is predicted to bring rains by early next week.
Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Barbuda, said the island is “literally rubble” amid scenes of “total carnage”. He added: “The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just total devastation.”
The US and British Virgin Islands have also been reporting significant damage.
In Antigua, thousands of Guyanese are living and working. Mirroring Antigua in terms of the number of Guyanese would be the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, a 37-square mile rock governed by the Dutch and French.
On the Dutch side of St. Maarten, where more than 4,000 Guyanese live, it is a worst case scenario. Homes are flattened and tourism, which the island depends on, has torn from its roots.
As of yesterday, videos surfaced of widespread looting, with the Indian merchants who control a large part of the trade with Chinese, appealing for help on social media from India’s foreign affairs ministry.
A significant number of Guyanese are property owners, who in involved in car rental, newspaper, construction and tourism business.
Irma caused significant damage to the island’s main airport, the Princess Juliana International Airport in Simpson Bay. The only planes landing were Dutch military aircraft bringing supplies. The airport’s radar has been damaged.
There were images of severe damage to aircraft and numerous yachts that makes St. Maarten their home. So too has the islands’ telephone services. There are few places with internet.
Amidst reported cases of widespread looting, it was disclosed that a curfew was being strictly enforced. Marines and police were manning road blocks. There were pockets of chaos, reported Alita Singh, a Guyana-born reporter attached to the Daily Herald.
On her Facebook page, her comments summed up the situation.
“Dear World, St. Maarten/St. Martin looks like a huge bomb exploded. All I can tell you is after I left the bathroom that protected Rajesh (Chintamani, her husband) and I – I thought this is what it must have felt like after people emerged from their shelters after World War II. We need water, desperately. We need food, desperately. The food that was available was taken by looters. Our tourism industry, our life blood, is gone. Our airport is severely damaged. One of our cruise piers is broken.”
Looters reportedly targeted several hotels, including Simpson Bay Resorts yesterday. Persons stormed into the hotel in Pelican and attacked and robbed guests and staff yesterday morning.
One tourist told The Daily Herald that a group of men overpowered security and staff and made their way to guest’s rooms taking jewellery and money from them. “They even punched and kicked another tourist for trying to stop them from looting.
Military personnel arrested five men and the area was cleared by police and coastguard officials.
Many Guyanese relatives were calling Kaieteur News yesterday, alarmed with the few photos and reports that were emerging of an island that had been decimated.
“I have my father there and his phone is off. I don’t know where to call. He is 60,” a Grove resident told this newspaper.
Another parent, who has a son there, said he was told that the French side was flattened with hotels collapsing and cars piled on each other.
“My son was able to get some internet at hospital. He said that it is a scary situation.”
Even the authorities are unsure how many persons were killed.
The police and Dutch navy were busy trying to bring control to the streets as looters fought for Smart television sets on the streets.
Overhead shots saw containers scattered around the place with one video showing a multi-storey building collapsing in the waters.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guyana in a notice said that Honorary Consul in French Guiana, Travis Tracey-Lecant, has advised that all Guyanese who need information, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, on relatives who reside in the French island of St. Martin should contact her as follows: [email protected] com with their full names, dates of birth, gender and address.
However, save for the ministry’s notice, there is very little relatives can do with communications off for more than 90 percent of the persons on the island.
The St. Maarten government was reporting that there is hardly any electricity and running water. The infrastructure on the island is bad: the airport and port are unreachable.
Chris Mendonca, a former bank employee in Guyana, was one of the lucky ones to access internet. “…St Maarten is a total wreck, lots of people are without roofs and houses. St Maarten is in a very, very bad state right now… God help us.”
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