After Hurricane Irma flattened homes throughout the British Virgin Islands when it struck the territory on Wednesday, untold hundreds of residents have had to seek refuge in churches, schools and other public shelters.
And those people are the lucky ones.
“[We’re] sleeping outside because there is nowhere to go or to be at this point,” BVI resident Christina Kissoon texted a Cayman Compass reporter early Thursday morning via WhatsApp. “It’s very dark and very windy still. I feel uneasy because people around are hurt and we do not have access to our pathways because it’s blocked. Morning could not come any sooner.”
The BVI is one of several jurisdictions in the eastern Caribbean that have been devastated by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean.
Relief efforts are beginning to be mobilized.
BVI Premier Orlando Smith turned away support from the U.K. when the territory was hit with 17 inches of rain in 17 hours last month – reportedly causing at least US$10 million in damage in that storm – but this time the U.K. has boots on the ground in the BVI and Anguilla in the aftermath of Irma, according to a statement from the Foreign Commonwealth Office.
“We have the fleet auxiliary boat [RFA] Mounts Bay in the vicinity, we have people on the ground,” said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Thursday. “But what we will be doing now is making an urgent assessment of the further needs of communities in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla to see what more can be done in terms of financial and humanitarian assistance.”
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May also reportedly pledged 32 million pounds for the affected British Overseas Territories, though there are few details about how the money will be disbursed.
While U.S. organizations will likely be focused on recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico – where most public utilities and other services are still offline – the British Overseas Territories and the other Caribbean jurisdictions can likely expect help from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility and the International Monetary Fund’s rapid-credit facility, the Economist Intelligence Unit reported on Thursday.
For Cayman’s part, Rotaract Club of Grand Cayman is mobilizing to help its fellow Rotaract district members, which include the USVI, BVI, St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barts and Anguilla, said club member Ileana Ebanks.
“We want to see what’s needed before we can do anything,” she said.
Meanwhile, those still in Irma’s path were bracing for impact Thursday.
Hayden Boyce, the editor-in-chief of the Turks and Caicos Sun, told the Cayman Compass that he’s expecting that Irma could be the worst storm the Turks and Caicos Islands has ever faced.
“We’re expecting this to be a combination of Hannah and Ike,” he said, referencing the hurricanes that smacked the islands in August and September of 2008. Mr. Boyce said Hurricane Hannah brought heavy rainfall and flooding to the islands, Hurricane Ike brought extreme winds, and Irma is expected to bring both.
As long as his newspaper has access to internet and power, it will provide updates on the Turks and Caicos, he added.