At first it seems like just another convivial ferry crossing in the Caribbean. Tourists are lapping up the sunshine, a cheery crew dispenses beers and rum punches, Bob Marley’s singing Coming in from the Cold. Yet as we sail out of Simpson Bay Lagoon in St Maarten, bound for the paradise beaches of Anguilla, I sense things aren’t quite right. Why don’t those yachts have masts? What’s that shipping container doing in the water? How does a car get so mangled?
This is the grotesque debris that lingers from the onslaught of Irma, the Category Five hurricane that stormed across the northern Caribbean on September 6, 2017, causing more than 40 fatalities and US$14.8 billion worth of damage. Some 12 days later, the equally strong Hurricane Maria brought a similar misery to the south, pounding Dominica, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where just under 3,000 people died.
It was a devastating double tragedy for the region, but as the Caribbean Tourism Organisation pointed out, more than 70 per cent of it remained open for business, including destinations such as Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada and St Lucia. Down the centuries, however, every island here has felt the sour kiss of malevolent weather, and it says everything that the word “hurricane” was born in these tropical climes – derived from hurakan, meaning “god of the storm” in the language of the indigenous Taino people.
No one doubts there are