The sheer devastation inflicted upon Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) by Hurricane Irma has shaken Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Irwin LaRoque, who today described the category five cyclone as a “nuclear hurricane”.
The two British territories, along with Antigua’s sister island of Barbuda and the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin, were among the worst hit when Irma unleashed her fury on the Caribbean, killing close to 40 people and leaving behind hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
While the countries count the cost, LaRocque and CARICOM Chairman, the Grenadian prime minister Dr Keith Mitchell, today joined a team from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) for a tour of the territories to assess the damage.
“When it shook Tortola [in the BVI] as a category five and you have heard it being described as a nuclear hurricane, I now understand what they meant . . . The damage is just overwhelming,” the Dominica-born diplomat said.
“One can shore up building codes as much as possible – and there is always room for improvement – [but] I am sure but with a storm of that ferocity, that intensity and as large as it was . . . the only thing that one could do is pray,” LaRocque told Barbados TODAY.
It could be a while yet before the cost of reconstruction is determined. However, Mitchell said in the BVI alone, it could reach US$1 billion.
Like LaRocque, he was struck by the carnage that Hurricane Irma caused with its pounding winds of 185 miles per hour.
“We have just come from Anguilla. Clearly a lot of destruction but nothing to compare to what we saw in BVI. It seems like we are going to have to place more focus on the BVI than what we had been thinking before. That is my estimation of the situation so far,” the CARICOM Chairman told Barbados TODAY after disembarking the Regional Security Service aircraft.
“It is still too early to say but clearly if you have [a group of] countries like the BVI you have got to be talking hundreds of millions of US dollars, if not or close to a billion dollars or more.
“You are talking every government building destroyed. The schools are gone and all of government headquarters. The ministers’ homes and all; no minster’s home was left not destroyed. Parliament gone . . . really, we are looking at an enormous amount of resources that will be needed,” Mitchell said.
The Grenadian prime minister is no stranger to the damage that storms of the ferocity of Irma can cause.
Almost 13 years ago to the day, on September 7, 2004, a dangerous Hurricane Ivan flattened 90 per cent of homes in Grenada, including his own, forcing Mitchell to relocate his office to a Royal Navy vessel.
It was then the most powerful storm to hit the region in a decade, and it laid Grenada to waste, killing 39 people and leaving behind US$815 million in damage.
Prisoners were running loose after the jail was destroyed, including those convicted for the murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in 1983, although they would later voluntarily turn themselves in.
Like Grenada, about 100 “very serious” prisoners escaped from a jail in the BVI in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, posing a “serious threat of the complete breakdown of law and order”, according to foreign and commonwealth minister Sir Alan Duncan.
Mitchell said CARICOM was mobilizing some resources to assist the ravaged islands, and would soon hold a donors’ conference in a bid to secure further help.
“After we get a good idea of the problems and a picture of the destruction and the needs that we have seen . . .that should come soon. That will be CARICOM’s major initiative,” Mitchell said
The British foreign secretary Boris Johnson is visiting the battered territories, and during a stopover here, on his way to Anguilla, he told the UK television network Sky News he was expecting the prime minister Theresa May to announce “tens of millions” of pounds in aid to the stricken islands.
The British have so far provided 20 tonnes of aid, including 2,500 shelter kits and 2,300 solar lanterns.
Five people died on the BVI during the storm and hundreds more have been left without running water or electricity.