Puerto Rico, Dominica, St Maarten, Barbuda, St. John's St. Croix, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria

    Americas: Puerto Rico

    Americas: United States

    Americas: Dominica

    Americas: Cuba

    Americas: St. Lucia

    Americas: St. Kitts and Nevis

    Americas: Antigua and Barbuda

    Europe: United Kingdom overseas territories

    Europe: French overseas territories

    Europe: Netherlands overseas territories

     

    Puerto Rico, Dominica, St Maarten, Barbuda, St. John's St. Croix, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria

     

    Early September 2017 was marked by the wrath of monster Hurricane Irma, which decimated several islands of the Leeward Caribbean before raging across the state of Florida in the United States.  Irma had the dubious distinction of being the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade.

     

    As a Category 5 hurricane, Irma slammed into the island of Barbuda - part of the two-island state of Antigua-Barbuda -- with maximum sustained  winds of 185 miles per hour.  But the massive storm's wide expanse of external bands hit neighboring islands such as St. Martin and St Barthelemy in the Netherlands and French Antilles, Anguilla in the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States territories of the Virgin Islands and   Puerto Rico with destructive force.  The storm's path continued on across the northern coasts of Cuba, across portions of the Bahamas, and then sweeping over the Florida Keys  with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, before covering the rest of the state with dangerous floods and winds.   In Naples, wind gusts of more than 140 miles per hour were recorded. 

     

    In the Caribbean, dozens of people were killed but no place suffered worse destruction than Barbuda.  According to Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said Irma had wreaked “absolute devastation” on Barbuda, which was now “barely habitable” with 95 percent of the island's infrastructure  completely destroyed. Up to 90 percent of St. Martin's infrastructure had also been utterly decimated, essentially destroying the French/Dutch territory's tourism industry.  Cuba's north coast, which was home to much of its burgeoning tourism industry,  had now suffered a massive setback in the already-struggling Communist country. Particularly hard-hit   Havana, Matanzas, Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila. Ten people were confirmed to have been killed in Cuba alone with authorities noting they had not evacuated to shelters, as instructed to do so.  Across the Leeward Caribbean, island nations and territories were being faced with dozens of deaths widespread damage and destruction to infrastructure, as well as a  humanitarian crisis. 

     

    In the Keys, landmark businesses were reduced to rubble. On Marco Island where Irma made landfall, along with nearby Naples, stood as the embodiment of havoc.  Drone footage indicated rows of shattered homes there.   Miami and Jacksonville were flooded, while the area around Tampa was battered.  Even Orlando, where many Floridians had sought refuge, did not escape the massive storm's wrath.  Indeed, as many as six millions of Floridians across the state were without power, with authorities predicting that it would be weeks before electricity would be restored.  There were also a number of car collision deaths linked with the storm.  The death toll would very likely increase once recovery efforts were underway.  Although millions of people across the region were ordered to evacuate and seek shelter before Irma arrived, many did not heed that advice.  The known death toll at the time of writing aside it was to be seen if they survived the monster storm's impact.

     

    Florida Governor Rick Scott warned that it would be "some time" before people could return to their homes or a state of normalcy.  He added, "Power lines are down throughout the state. We've got roads that are impassable, so everybody's got to be patient as we work through this."  Rescue and recovery efforts to the Keys and barrier islands would likely be difficult because there was no guarantee that connecting bridges had withstood the power of lashing winds and rain. 

     

    President Donald Trump signed an emergency order releasing federal aid for Florida. These funds would be vital to help victims repair damage and recover from Irma's destructive force.  

     

    Prime Minister Theresa May of the United  Kingdom pledged 32 million in British pounds for recovery assistance in the Caribbean.  The Dutch monarch King Willem-Alexander,  visited Netherlands Antilles affected by Irma, including the Dutch side of St Martin to show solidarity with the people. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte promised an intensified security presence in affected Dutch territories to ensure order, and noted that security forces had been authorized to function with a “firm hand.”  French President Emmanuel Macron was criticized for the lateness of his response to St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, but was also expected to make his way to the region to survey the damage and offer assistance for French Caribbean territories' recovery and rebuilding efforts.  

     

    Independent Caribbean island nations such as Cuba and Antigua-Barbuda would have a more difficult time on their limited resources to recover from Irma's wrath.  In Barbuda more than 1,300 Barbadians were in shelters in Antigua with no suggestion of when they might return home. Assistance was coming from regional neighbors such as Jamaica, St Lucia, and Trinidad and promised assistance while a team from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) was  on the ground in Barbuda carrying out an assessment.  A Go Fund Me fund had been established to try to rescue animals left to roam free in Barbuda in the aftermath of the storm. 

     

    Later in September 2017, the islands of the  Caribbean were bracing for yet another strike by Mother Nature -- this time by Hurricane Maria. The Category five hurricane was forecast to hit the  Leeward Islands in the Caribbean on Sept. 18, 2017.  Hurricane warnings were issued for the islands of Dominica, St. Lucia. St. Kitts-Nevis, the  French overseas territories of  Guadeloupe and Martinique, the United Kingdom overseas territories of Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands, as well as the United States Virgin islands.  Hurricane watches were issues for the French territories of St Martin  (also partially under Dutch jurisdiction) and St Barts, as well as the United States territory of Puerto Rico.  The islands of Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla were also under hurricane watches.  Of concern was the fact that some of these islands were still suffering the effects of  Irma, and were about to be struck again.

     

    Note that on Sept, 19, 2017, it was reported that Hurricane Maria had almost completely destroyed the Caribbean island nation of Dominica.  The tiny island of less than 80,000 people was viciously struck with maximum sustained winds of nearly 160 miles per hour, which according to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, had decimated most of the country's infrastructure.  His own home suffered catastrophic failure - as was the case for most Dominicans. Via the social media outlet Facebook, Skerrit said, “So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.” He added that the island nation's immediate priority was the rescue of people trapped be the damage of the hurricane, and provision of  medical care to the injured.  

     

    In the longer run, though, Dominican authorities would have to deal with the reality that the entire country was left in "war zone" conditions. 

     

    Following Maria's destruction of Dominica, the hurricane went onto to strike Puerto Rico -- home to close to 3.5 million Americans -- with brutal force.  In the aftermath of Maria, the island was dealing with destructive and e-coli infested flooding.  That situation was exacerbated when dams were breached. At the same time, large swaths of physical infrastructure were left destroyed.  Meanwhile, the communications networks, including cellular phone and internet service, were largely compromised.   

     

    Perhaps, most crucially the end of September 2017, Puerto Rico was completely without electrical power with the local government warning that this would likely be the case for months since the entire power structure was obliterated.  Functioning without electrical power has posed serious challenges, from the physical hardship of existing in tropical heat, to procuring gas canisters to simply cook food.  

     

    With that reality in mind, many Puerto Ricans were trying to leave for the United States mainland to relocate temporarily while the island recovers.  But simply getting on a flight was difficult because there was no power to get online to crosscheck flight bookings at the airport, or to handle air traffic control. 

     

    While there were well-meaning individuals and entities interested in assisting Puerto Rico, the fact of the matter was that it was logistically difficult  to do so.  At the broader level, federal aid from the mainland would be difficult for Puerto Rico, which was already mired in a financial crisis, since cities or states that receive federal emergency aid have to provide a matching fee.  An additional consideration was the Jones Act, which mandates that aid supplies to Puerto Rico be transported on United States  flagged ships -- a far more expensive endeavor.  

     

    With the situation in Puerto Rico deteriorating after Hurricane Maria, Governor Ricardo Rosselló  said: “There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico. This is an event without precedent.”

     

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