A British Virgin Islands resident surveys the wreckage of his home, which was destroyed by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6, 2017. - PHoto: Ken Silva

On Sept. 12, 2005, then-Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts touted the “miraculous recovery” Cayman had made since being devastated by Hurricane Ivan a year earlier. He cautioned, however, that there was still millions of dollars of construction and other rebuilding efforts to be done before the territory would be fully back on its feet.

Today, much of the Eastern Caribbean is in a similar situation as Cayman was 13 years ago, with jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and St. Maarten in varying stages of their recovery efforts one year after facing Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6, 2017. Puerto Rico, too, grapples with the aftermath of Irma and to a greater extent Hurricane Maria, which struck the island a week after Irma.

Aug. 30, 2018 was a banner day for the BVI, as Disney Cruise Line sent a ship there for the first time in more than a year. Smaller ships reportedly made calls there in December, but none had visited since April. When the Cayman Compass visited the territory in April, the cruise pier was being used as the territory’s main ferry dock, replacing a terminal that was heavily damaged.

Other tourism industries were quicker to recover than that in the BVI. According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and the United States Virgin Islands were often welcoming more than 10,000 passengers per day by January.

“And as of Feb. 16, San Juan, Puerto Rico, was seeing cruise passenger satisfaction levels higher than those preceding the storms, and satisfaction levels were also tracking higher than pre-hurricane levels for St. Thomas, USVI and St. Maarten,” stated the FCCA, citing Carnival Cruise Line’s senior vice president of port operations, guest care and international.

The return of Disney was not only a positive development for the territory’s tourism industry; it also signaled how far the islands have come in terms of cleaning up debris and hazardous material. Disney Cruise Line stated in May that it would not send ships to the BVI until the islands were safe for tourists, according to the BVI Beacon newspaper.

More cruise ships making calls to the Eastern Caribbean could impact Cayman, as many ships had been diverted to here after last September’s hurricanes, leading to record cruise passenger arrival numbers.

Luxury hotels and resorts are also in the process of reopening throughout the Eastern Caribbean. According to USA Today, the Secret Bay Resort in Dominica recently reopened; a major island resort in the BVI is scheduled to reopen in October; and a Marriott resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands has been open for months.

However, basic infrastructure remains an issue in some areas of the affected islands.

A quarterly report filed last month by Flow parent company Liberty Latin America Ltd. states that fixed-line phone services still have not been fully restored in the BVI and Dominica.

“In addition to network damage, these markets are also dealing with extensive damage to homes, businesses and essential infrastructure,” states the report, which estimates that it will take another US$50 million to repair its networks in the hurricane-impacted areas.

Moko jumbie dancers parade through Tortola Pier Park in the British Virgin Islands. The Disney Fantasy, docked in the background, was Disney’s first vessel to visit the BVI since Hurricane Irma. – Photo: Claire Shefchik/BVI Beacon

The North West Company, which owns the Cost-U-Less stores in Cayman and throughout the Caribbean, stated in its first-quarter financial report that its store in St. Maarten is scheduled to be fully reopened this month. A Cost-U-Less store in the U.S. Virgin Islands and three of the company’s stores in the BVI require complete reconstruction and will take about another year to reopen, according to the report.

Puerto Rico was the most badly hit island in the Eastern Caribbean in terms of fatalities, and is still struggling to determine how many people died from the storms. Last week, its government released a revised estimate last week that 2,975 died because of Maria’s disaster and aftereffects – up from an original estimate of 64 deaths that was made shortly after the storm.

With about 1,100 more deaths than what Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005, Maria has been estimated as the deadliest natural disaster in the U.S. in more than 100 years.

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