ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – “I can say I’m homeless,” Pastor Clifton Francois, owner and operator of Barbuda’s lone radio/television outfit Abundant Life Radio and The Barbuda Channel said.
The radio and television stations have been off air after Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to the facilities and equipment.
In addition to the considerable damage to his broadcast facility, his home was destroyed and a new one, under construction, was significantly damaged.
“Most of our damage is at our transmitter site where we lost our transmitting antenna. Also we lost our transmitter for 103.1 which operates in Barbuda … and then our studio,” Francois said.
“We thought that we were in a safe zone in the studio, but the lone window that was there got blown in and water came in and wet up all our console boards… but the television station, we didn’t suffer much damage,” he added.
Abundant Life – operating on 103.1 FM in Barbuda and 103.9 in Antigua – is primarily a religious station, but it plays a critical role in keeping the residents of the sister isle informed with community updates and programmes on a wide range of topics including health and education.
The Barbuda Channel covers a wide range of local events including council and public political meetings and panel discussions as well as local news and community updates.
“People look forward to local information and folks from Antigua look forward to the channel to bring local (programmes) whether it’s a Council meeting or some programme from Barbuda,” Francois said, adding that just a day before the storm, Prime Minister Gaston Browne and members of cabinet were in studio briefing residents about Hurricane Irma preparations.
As Irma – the most powerful Category 5 storm in history – began to bear down on the northern Leeward Islands, Francois and local officials, including Barbuda Member of Parliament Arthur Nibbs were on air concluding a broadcast on storm preparations.
Hours later, the studio that was used to accommodate various government and Barbuda Council officials became a shelter for more than two dozen people.
“People started to run out on the street asking for ‘help, help, help,’ and if there’s any room so we had to start taking in persons through the window and then I ran down the road trying to help folks,” Francois recounted. At least 20 people from nearby homes sought shelter at the station for the remainder of the storm. They stayed there even as water made its way in and slowly flooded the small concrete structure.
He recalled images of people standing in water as there were not enough seats, sounds of people in neighbouring homes crying out in fear and he also remembered the feeling of pressure building in the room before someone adjusted a window to let in some air and unwanted rain.
Francois, who is also a local Pentecostal minister, said he has not yet been able to place a price tag on the damage. In addition to water damage and broken windows and doors at the Codrignton studio, transmitting equipment and mixing boards were destroyed. The studio console and computers were also damaged and he is not optimistic they can be repaired.
For Francois, even if the studio equipment is replaced, the main challenge is finding a new transmission site, as the antenna which also served local telecommunications providers was taken down by the storm and reduced to a mangled mess of metal.