Monday 25 September 2017

Islands counting the cost of trail of destruction

Boats piled on top of each other in the marina in Road Town, Tortola, on the British Virgin Islands. Photo: AP
Boats piled on top of each other in the marina in Road Town, Tortola, on the British Virgin Islands. Photo: AP

Nelson Acosta

From Cuba to Antigua, Caribbean islanders began counting the cost of Hurricane Irma after the brutal storm left a trail of death, destruction and chaos from which it could take the tourist-dependent region years to recover.

The ferocious Category 5 storm, which killed at least 28 people across the region, devastated housing, power supplies and communications, leaving some small islands almost cut off from the world. European nations sent military reinforcements to keep order amid looting, while the damage was expected to total billions of dollars.

Ex-pat billionaires and poor islanders alike were forced to take cover as Irma tore roofs off buildings, flipped cars and killed livestock, raging from the Leeward Islands across Puerto Rico and Hispaniola then into Cuba before turning toward Florida.

Waves of up to 11 metres smashed businesses along the Cuban capital Havana's sea-side drive yesterday morning. Further east, high winds whipped Varadero, the island's most important tourist resort.

Sea-front hotels were evacuated in Havana and relief workers spent the night rescuing people from homes in the city centre as the sea penetrated to historic levels in the flood-prone area.

US President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, where Irma killed at least three people and left hundreds of thousands without power. He also expanded federal funds available to the US Virgin Islands, which suffered extensive damage to homes and infrastructure.

Further east in the Caribbean, battered islands such as Saint Martin and Barbuda were taking stock of the damage as people began emerging from shelters.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the death toll on the Dutch part of Saint Martin had risen to four from two, and that 70pc of homes had been damaged or destroyed.

Following reports of looting, the Netherlands said it would increase its military presence to 550 soldiers on the island.

France, which oversees neighbouring Saint Barthelemy and other half of Saint Martin, said the police presence on the two islands had been boosted to close to 500. The French interior ministry said 11 people suspected of "malicious actions" had been arrested as TV footage showed chaos on the islands with streets under water, boats and cars in piles and torn rooftops.

Irma killed at least 10 people on the two islands. France's Caisse Centrale de Reassurance, a state-owned reinsurance group, estimated the cost of Irma at €1.2bn.

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit Saint Martin tomorrow.

Barbuda, home to about 1,800 people, faces a bill that could total hundreds of millions of dollars, after Irma forced the local government to order a total evacuation.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said Irma had wreaked "absolute devastation" on Barbuda, which he said was "barely habitable".

The storm also plunged the British Virgin Islands, an offshore business and legal centre, into turmoil.

British billionaire Richard Branson, who sought refuge in the wine cellar of his home on Necker island, called Irma the "storm of the century" and urged people to make donations to help rebuild the region.

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