The scene of sheer destruction and the scale of the human catastrophe left by Hurricane Irma in Barbuda is nothing less than surreal and its likes, from all accounts, have long been absent from living memory.
Any onlooker would easily believe that there are no more habitable dwellings on the Antigua sister isle following Tuesday night’s and Wednesday morning’s passage of Irma – the Category five hurricane that gutted virtually all buildings, then scorched and flooded the terrain.
More than 1,500 citizens became homeless and several hundred are now attempting to flee the hazardous landscape to seek refuge in Antigua.
Knacynta Nedd, chairwoman of the Barbuda Council, told OBSERVER media a voluntary evacuation is in effect. However, while ferries begin to regularize trips to Barbuda, and planes have yet to attempt to evacuate survivors, frustration and agitation are slowly seizing the population.
The chairwoman said the first to leave should be “pregnant women, babies, the elderly and the disabled” – some of whom left the island yesterday via air and sea.
However, she warned that the longer survivors remain in a virtual communications blackout, amidst the rubble of their homes, and unsure of when their plight will be alleviated, the greater the likelihood of disruptive or even violent behaviour will become.
“It’s starting to get chaotic, and some people are beginning to behave like a mob. You’re having a few arguments here and there because we’re establishing who’s in charge and everybody wants to be in charge.”
The agitation within the population has been exacerbated by the knowledge that another hurricane – Jose – is making its way across the Atlantic toward the Caribbean. The absence of telephone and Internet service has left survivors in an information void.
Unlike in Antigua, Irma survivors on the sister isle have no immediate way of knowing whether or not tomorrow will bring rain, thunder storms, or blue skies and the mere knowledge that Jose – now a Category three hurricane – is approaching has agitated the population.
OBSERVER media arrived on the sister isle on Thursday in the middle of a public meeting at what remains of the Codrington airfield – a runway damaged by heavy flying debris and a building, flooded, roofless and gutted.
Crowds of people turned out with the expectation that they would be evacuated in short order only to be told that travel from the island by air and sea would be impossible for many until later. Some began to shout and curse about what they felt was the slow pace at which the evacuation was taking place.
Meanwhile, a handful of buildings have become the main dwelling of the vast majority of the population – the roofs of their homes having been torn off, their walls having been blown down and their belongings having been drenched by rain or consumed by Irma’s winds.
The entire landscape has become a hazardous debris field requiring that survivors hopscotch through the flooded yards and open rubble of their homes in order to scavenge for what is left of their belongings.
Valery Beazer, formerly the owner of Valery’s Variety Store in Codrington, spoke to OBSERVER media as she gathered together some of her rain-drenched documents in the wind-scared husk of her variety store. She said she had never witnessed nor experienced anything like Irma’s wrath.
Hers was the refrain of every Barbudan Irma survivor who spoke to OBSERVER media – none had ever seen a hurricane so powerful in their lives and shuddered to think that another hurricane was approaching.
“I called upon Jesus. The wind blew in my door in the middle of the hurricane and I could not close it. I just pressed myself against it but it would not shut. I called on Jesus…it’s all I could do,” Beazer said.
Medical services, police, military, and volunteers have all begun a relief effort in Barbuda and according to the Barbuda Council chairwoman, while there are enough supplies at present to satisfy the population day-to-day, more must be sent immediately. (Observer Media)