Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, travelled across various islands of the Eastern Caribbean beginning on 6 September 2017, leaving a trail of destruction in its path, especially in Anguila, the British Virgin Islands, Barbuda and Turks and Caicos Islands. Early estimates suggest that 74,000 people, including 20,000 children, have been affected in these islands. To help those affected by Hurricane Irma, click on the link below.
It’s in bathing sunlight that Sasha Lewis boards a vessel which will take her and several other residents from the hurricane-ravaged Barbuda to the relative safety of nearby Antigua.
The vessel, the Excellee, is normally a pleasure craft transporting tourists seeking a tropical experience on the popular vacation spot known for its legendary pink sands. But for the past two days the pleasure craft has turned into a live-saving conveyor as residents abandon the 35-square mile island which took the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s fierce 185 miles per hour wind.
With scenes of devastation all around them, by the end of Friday up to two-thirds of the 1500 population of the Eastern Caribbean country are expected to have taken the one-hour voyage across to Antigua where there expect to get a change to start the process of returning their lives to some sort of normalcy. The urgency is great. Hurricane Jose, which is unnervingly following almost the same path of Irma, already has Barbuda and other northern islands in the Caribbean chain in its sight. Government has already issued a hurricane watch as the latest system in a busy Atlantic hurricane season approaches with its top wind of 130 miles.
Government has declared a state of emergency in Barbuda and has urged residents to voluntarily evacuate ahead of Jose. But getting out has not been easy as the lone airport which sustained damages remained closed. A few vessels have answered the call and the port has been a busy scene as residents, with children, the sick and the elderly first, being able to leave.
Sasha, who is seven months pregnant with her first child, and the other residents of Barbuda cannot contemplate the prospect of facing Jose in Barbados as 95 percent of the housing stock was damaged or destroyed.
“My family is in Antigua. It’s just me here,” says the 23-year-old Sasha as she awaits her turn to board the vessel. “I’m leaving nothing behind. No house, nothing … everything that I ever owned in my life, everything is gone. I have nothing, not even clothes. It’s the grace of God and the prayers of my mother and my brother and my sister that I’m here so I thank God for life,” she says. For Sasha, the memories of Irma are even more painful as she watched her friend Tevelle Jeremiah lose here two-year-old son, Charles Francis, Jr., as the violence winds tore apart her house which was two doors down from where Sasha lives. “I don’t know what my friend is going through, but I feel for her…that baby was like my own child and I will miss him,” she said. Charles was the lone fatality during the storm.
Barbuda is among countries where UNICEF is working with the regional disaster management agency, governments and other international partners to ensure that population receive the needed assistance.
“Our focus is in reaching children wherever they are with our first call being those most in need,” says Khin Sandi-Lwin, the UNICEF Representative for the eastern Caribbean Area.
UNICEF is providing tents, water purification tablets, and hygiene kits for displaced families along with other supplies such as tarpaulins, blankets and potable water containers to displaced communities in Barbuda, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos islands.