Hurricane Irma: Survivors tell of ‘utter devastation’ in Caribbean

‘It’s worse than anyone could have imagined . . . It feels like nothing is left’

Residents of the British Virgin Islands say they have witnessed scenes of “unbelievable” devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, and warned of widespread looting and a shortage of water and shelter for those left homeless by the storm.

Irma severed links with the outside world and left thousands of tourists and local people desperate to escape after it pounded islands along the north-eastern edge of the Caribbean.

However, the islands were spared another battering on Saturday when Hurricane Jose had “markedly less” impact than first feared.

Irma wrought extensive damage after it hit the isolated islands of St Barts, St Martin, Anguilla and the British and the Virgin Islands group, leaving 22 people dead.


“We are all safe but in a state of shock,” said Natalie Drury, a resident of the British Virgin Islands. “We desperately need help as soon as possible. Food, water, shelter. I’m extremely concerned about health and safety - there is sewage absolutely everywhere.”

Drury, who lives who lives with her husband on Tortola, the biggest and most populous of the British Virgin Islands, told the Guardian she was in a “state of disbelief” about the destruction she has witnessed.

“I can’t believe my eyes. I can’t even begin to describe the utter devastation around. It feels like nothing is left,” she said, adding that only concrete buildings, some of them badly damaged, were still standing.

“It’s worse than anyone could have imagined. The country is going to need some serious help. I have no idea how many people have died. We were told yesterday it’s gone up to 10, but obviously that’s all rumours. Nobody knows yet.”

The house in which Drury and her husband have sought shelter has no phone or Wi-Fi connections. The couple were hoping to return to their home, which they had not seen since Irma hit the island, and check on their neighbours.

“We will grab anything of any value as looting has already begun,” Drury said. “The town has been emptied, every shop has been looted.”

She and her husband are staying in another house that has become a place of refuge for several people who have lost everything. “We now have 11 people, one baby and seven dogs,” Drury said.

The pleas for relief came amid criticism of the British government’s response to the disaster.

On Saturday, the foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, announced a package of £42m for the relief effort in the British territories of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos.

“The UK government is doing everything it possibly can to help those affected by the hurricane,” Johnson said.

About 500 British troops have been sent to the area of the Caribbean hit by Irma, with the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, saying that the relief operation was “well under way”.

Marines, engineers, medics and specialists, including army and RAF personnel have been deployed in the region.

The area endured more high winds on Saturday as Jose, a category 4 storm, passed through, closing airports and halting emergency relief efforts by boat.

However, France’s meteorological agency said on Sunday that Jose had “markedly less” of an impact on the French islands of St Martin and St Barts than anticipated.

The agency had issued its highest warning, saying the Category Four Hurricane Jose could become a “dangerous event of exceptional intensity”.

But “there’s not a cloud in the sky”, one AFP reporter at the scene said.

“Thanks to a passage which was further away than anticipated, the effects on the territory were markedly less,” the meteorological agency said.

The US national hurricane centre had warned on Saturday that Jose was nearing category five strength - the highest rating for a storm - bringing fears of more destruction for islands in the eastern Caribbean such as Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla days after they had taken the full brunt of Irma.

But the forecasters said on Sunday that Jose was “gradually weakening” as it moved away from the northern Leeward Islands.

The government of Antigua discontinued the tropical storm warning for Barbuda and Anguilla.

Guardian News and Media 2017