February 22, 2020

Relief efforts stall in Caribbean as islands brace for Hurricane Jose

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POINTE-À-PITRE, Guadeloupe — The passage of through the eastern left a wake of destruction that could take years to settle. On Saturday, officials in the reported five deaths from the storm, raising the total to 25 across the Caribbean.

But aid workers, who had only just begun responding to the devastated communities on these small islands, have been force to halt.

With Hurricane Jose, a dangerous Category 4 hurricane, set to make its way across the eastern Caribbean on Saturday, they cannot put more lives in danger.

“I’ve been working in the Caribbean for 10 years, and this is the first time I have seen a situation like this,” said Raphael Hamoir, the emergency coordinator for the French Red Cross in the region. “We are talking about existing devastation from a Category 5 hurricane, and right as we are starting the relief operation, we have another hurricane coming.”

Residents and visitors to the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy were left stranded by the storm. Many are in need of food and water, roads have yet to be cleared, and power is out across much of the area.

 

It could be next week before rescue workers can fully assess the extent of the aid needed — and losses inflicted — by both storms.

“That is not only stopping all of the work we began in the last few days,” Mr. Hamoir said. “It means we will have to start everything over again in three days.”

Across a band of the Caribbean islands, aid workers had been racing to get supplies to populations stripped of practically everything. By early Saturday, it looked as if some of the already hard-hit islands, like Antigua and Barbuda, would avoid the worst of Jose, though others remained in its path.

The exact damage has not been measured, but the early estimates are grim: The islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy, roughly 80 to 90 percent destroyed; for Antigua, Barbuda and Anguilla, the figures are similar. The island of Guadeloupe, which was spared by Hurricane Irma, has become a staging ground of sorts, with hundreds of largely French rescue workers using it as an operational hub.

The French relief operation has been one of starts and, for now, stops, but those on the British Virgin Islands have only just begun. Interviews with a half-dozen people trapped on the island of Tortola, home to about 30,000 people, offer a snapshot of desperation.

Buildings were leveled, once lush and verdant hillsides were reduced to barren stumps, and roads were washed away. Several residents said shops on some of the islands had been robbed as people looked to scavenge food and water.

At least five deaths have been reported, according to Gus Japsert, governor of the British Virgin Islands. He urged citizens to take the incoming storm seriously.

“The communities are pulling together and supporting each other,” he said in a phone interview.

The British government said it had sent 20 tons of aid to the affected areas, including shelter kits and solar lanterns, aboard a naval ship that has already arrived in the British Virgin Islands.

Catherine Clayton, whose family owns a hotel in Josiah’s Bay, said 25 people – including neighbors whose homes were destroyed – were sheltering in the two rooms that were still habitable in the eight-room Tamarind Hotel.

By Saturday morning, there had been no aid deliveries to her portion of the island.

“We have enough fresh water for all of us to survive for two weeks, if we ration,” she said. “Same for food.”

In the United States Virgin Islands, the death toll has reached four, so far. But communications remain spotty there. Many suspect that the number of dead will climb.

Residents worry that with attention turning to Florida, where Hurricane Irma will make landfall on Sunday, those living on the devastated islands will be forgotten.

“The fear has always been, If we have a hit like what we have now, and the U.S. gets a serious hit, we will be completely forgotten,” said Brigitte Berry, whose family hails from St. Thomas.

For now, many islanders feel trapped.

“We can’t get into a car and drive out of here,” she said. “And all of the boats have been destroyed.”

While Hurricane Jose is not expected to strike the British Virgin Islands or the United States Virgin Islands, other islands that will be directly affected by the second storm are bracing for the worst.

Eze Egwuatu was vacationing on St. Martin when Hurricane Irma hit, tearing the roof off the house he was staying in. As Hurricane Jose approached the island on Saturday, Mr. Egwuatu sheltered with friends at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine in St. Maarten, on the Dutch side of the island.

“The military already came this morning and evacuated 50 women and children,” Mr. Egwuatu said, via text message, from the shelter on Saturday. “ We are just holed up at the shelter waiting for evacuation.”

The university, as well as the rest of the island, is still working to determine how stranded students and members of the community will be evacuated once Hurricane Jose passes.

“There is obvious and growing concern about the evacuation, and I want to address those concerns,” wrote Dr. Heidi Chumley, dean of the university, in a message on the school’s website. “They are different options, but each has its own challenges including, as you know, a closed airport, very difficult seas and another approaching hurricane.”

contributed reporting from New York, and Carl Joseph from Codington, Antigua and Barbuda.

IMAGE: French rescue teams heading to the island of St. Martin on Friday. Credit Martin Bureau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For more on this story go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/09/world/americas/irma-relief-stalls-caribbean-hurricane-jose.html

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