Disaster: Caribbean, Diaspora Buckle After Back-To-Back Hurricanes

Author:  Gordon Williams
The Caribbean braced, then buckled to the fierce onslaught of multiple hurricanes recently, which scattered death and mass destruction across the region and left an ugly mark on the diaspora in the United States as well. The Caribbean and its nationals in the U.S. were not spared the brutal impact of powerful hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as even those who escaped loss of life and property - particularly in Texas and Florida - were forced to worry about the fate of family and friends in the countries of their roots.

Forbes 1In some cases, Caribbean nations were left to ponder their immediate future, as homes, schools and businesses were destroyed, and utility services, such as electricity and water, rendered non-functional - some estimated to be down for months. Thousands were forced to evacuate areas of Houston during Harvey. Barbuda was vacated after being blasted by Irma. Up to press time, devastated Puerto Rico was pondering a similar fate after being pounded by Maria.

FIRST

Hurricane Harvey was the first to hit Caribbean Americans in the U.S. in late August. Houston bore the brunt of the damage. Record flooding led to a U.S. government estimate of up to $180 billion in damages. Some 50 people died in the disaster and roughly 200,000 homes were heavily damaged. Caribbean nationals were among those hit hard.

“Quite a few Caribbean people were affected,” said Khalfani Omari Fullerton, Jamaica’s honorary consul general in Houston. “A lot of people were flooded out.” Fullerton said they were slowly returning to stability, although many required help.

“People are finding their way,” Fullerton said. “But they still need assistance.” However, the Caribbean community, particularly businesses like restaurants, rallied to support hurricane victims by providing food and shelter.
“They stepped up,” said Fullerton.

CONCERN

BarbudaYet even as Caribbean Americans in Texas pondered their future after Harvey, many were forced, almost immediately, to turn their concern to the Caribbean. They worried for residents of the region who were first hit by Hurricane Irma early last month. It devastated several countries, including the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin and Barbuda. Dozens died and many places were left uninhabitable.

“The damage is complete,” Antigua and Barbuda’s U.S. Ambassador Ronald Sanders told Public Radio International last month while describing damage to his country. “It’s a humanitarian disaster.” The Caribbean’s despair hiked to desperation shortly after when Hurricane Maria smashed into the region. St. Lucia suffered heavy damage.

Dominica recorded at least 15 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. The U.S. territory Puerto Rico lost at least 13 residents and was left without electricity, possibly for months. Food, water and gas supplies dwindled quickly. Cell phone services were cut off and medical facilities hampered in the wake of the hurricane. Desperation set in quickly and pressure mounted on the federal government to step up efforts. Relief was slow to come.

Maria was also blamed for deaths in Haiti and Guadeloupe. Dozens were listed as missing across the Caribbean following the onslaught of Irma and Maria, which also affected countries like The Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos Islands. In many places the future looked bleak.

StTHANKFUL

By the time Irma reached Florida, home to thousands of Caribbean Americans, many had battened down their homes, bracing for the worst. Hundreds evacuated, heading north to places like Georgia, which was also hit by the hurricane. However, many Caribbean American residents were relieved that the hurricane damage was not they had anticipated; thankful that lives and properties were spared worse.

“No major damage,” said a Jamaican-born resident of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. “Just light (electricity) gone for about a week. We have to give thanks.” Caribbean Today looks up close at some Caribbean nations hit hard by hurricanes Irma and Maria, starting on page 7.

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