Storms show that any island can be wiped away
A few weeks ago, Hurricane Irma carved its way through the northeastern Caribbean, bringing untold death and devastation to many islands. Idyllic tourist destinations such as Anguilla, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, St Barts and St Martin were reduced to near rubble over the course of a few hours. Entire communities and economies were decimated.
In the immediate wake of this massive destruction, other Caribbean islands organised humanitarian aid on a scale never seen before.
Individuals, community organisations, island governments and regional organisations began to transport essential items, including food, water, clothing, tarpaulins and other needed items via makeshift fleets comprising private and government-owned marine vessels. In fact, a flotilla of cabin cruisers left the safe ports of Puerto Rico and St Croix to not only carry over essential items, but also to evacuate parents with infants, the elderly and those in need of immediate medical attention. Essentially, together they became known as the “Puerto Rican Navy”.
From the fertile Windward Islands of Dominica, Grenada and St Vincent, fresh food was sent via ship and aircraft to the various affected islands. In the truest sense, the term “Rally round the West Indies” was taking effect.
As cruel fate would have it, extremely warm waters produced a second Category 5 hurricane by the name of Maria a mere two weeks after Hurricane Irma unleashed itself on the Leeward Islands. Perhaps in a twist of divine mercy, Maria did not hit those islands that were already reeling from Irma. With Hollywood-like irony, however, the eye of Maria took aim at the very same islands that had been providing aid to the previously affected countries. In the wake of 165mph winds lay the wreckage of Dominica, St Croix and Puerto Rico. The hurricane heroes had now been rendered hurricane victims.
Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica, had to be rescued when the roof of his home was blown off. Puerto Rico, with a population of approximately 3.5 million, was plunged into darkness by the loss of its electrical grid. Early estimates state that it will be up to six months before the island will have power restored to normal levels.
In what can be described only as an unprecedented and widespread natural disaster, ten Caribbean islands have more than a resemblance of post-apocalyptic states.
So the question now becomes: who will help the helpers to recover?
Islands such as Anguilla, BVI, St Martin and Turks & Caicos remain colonies of European nations, so there is a degree of immediate assistance in the form of military personnel. Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, is experiencing extremely limited aid from the Donald Trump Administration.
For independent island nations such as Barbuda and Dominica, they rely on the generosity of Canada, Venezuela and France. Perhaps more fitting, they have received assistance, in multiple forms, from other Caricom nations such as, but not limited to, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago.
Perhaps the lesson amid all this tragedy is that on any given day the daily routine of any island, big or small, can be wiped away in a matter of hours. Both the rich and the poor can become homeless, hungry and heartbroken.
Here in Bermuda, we must stay ever prepared to help ourselves and to help our sister islands.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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