As destructive as they were, the Caribbean hurricanes of 2017 have provided a chance for the islands to rebuild and renew
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 more 185mph winds and terrifying storm surges to come, and climate change seems to be making
things worse. “The warmer the upper ocean, the more powerful a hurricane can become,” a study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory concluded in May last year.
“Irma was so powerful,” sighs Kenroy Herbert, an Anguillian who runs a lifestyle management company on this tiny British Overseas Territory. “No one could prepare for something as strong as that.” Every islander here has a tale to tell and it’s a grim montage – children huddled under proppedup mattresses, villagers forming human chains, 4x4s flying through the air.
Tim Foy, governor of Anguilla, had taken up his post only a few weeks before Irma hit. He is proud of the UK government’s response. “We paid for 40 Canadian linesmen to help restore power, and we’ve put close to £70 million into the island’s recovery,” he says.
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July - August 2019