It is as if the recent hurricanes came through and deliberately leveled each of the small islands methodically, one by one. Many of us cannot begin to imagine the kind of emotion we would experience if we lost everything we ever owned. The people of Barbuda, Dominica, Anguilla, St. Martin & St. Barts, Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Cuba did. Barbuda is now a ghost town. They lost their homes, they lost their cars, they lost material things but they escaped with their lives.
After the devastating hurricane disaster, the island of Barbuda has lost 90 percent of its buildings. There is little or not enough shelter to accommodate the affected residents of this tiny Caribbean island. This small 62-square-mile island, was the home to just over 1,500 people. They were all evacuated to their sister island Antigua since this island was not affected by Irma. The question then becomes will our brothers and sisters be ever go home and continue a normal life?
Helenmay Bady, president of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Philadelphia, told us that when the hurricane made landfall on Barbuda, she was extremely concerned. “Antigua was spared with no casualty,” she stated. “But there were downed trees and flooding; however, our sister island of Barbuda was not so fortunate. The island sustained only one casualty but according to the prime minister, Gaston Brown, 95 percent of the homes were either destroyed or damaged,” she continued. “Right now everyone has been evacuated from Barbuda to Antigua. They are now living in shelters and with host families who were kind enough to take them in.”
CNN reported that although a lot of people did not die from the storm, there are a lot of dead animals floating in water. The concerned among government officials is that this could lead to airborne diseases so they will not be able to allow the residents to go back to their homes to salvage any items and it will be quite some time before they can rebuild homes and restore order. All inhabitants were rounded up and shuttled in boats and airplanes to Antigua before Hurricane Jose came along and completely leveled any structures that might have been left standing after Irma.
The Caribbean Communities (CARICOM) nations have offered as much help and resources that they can to their fellow West Indians. But it seems that the international community has focused their offer of assistance and resources elsewhere. Ronald Sanders, the Antigua and Barbuda ambassador to the U.S., told Los Angeles Times reporters that the government of Venezuela is one of the main countries that has “come forward with practical assistance. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management has reached out in the region for help. So far, aside from condolences and concerns, Caracas is the only city that has sent an army airplane with emergency supplies and personnel. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda hopes to get enough support via donations to rebuild the country.”
Locally, the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Philadelphia released a statement saying: “The ABAP stands with our brothers and sisters in Antigua and Barbuda and the other Caribbean islands that have been affected by Hurricane Irma, Jose and Maria. In an effort to ensure that relief efforts are organized and consistent, we are collaborating with the New York offices of Antigua and Barbuda to collect monetary donations, nonperishable goods and toiletries. Monetary donations to the Barbuda Relief Fund can be made at the Bank of America. Make checks payable to: Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda (memo line: Barbuda Hurricane Relief). Donations of nonperishable goods and toiletries can be dropped off at any of the following locations in Philadelphia: Chick-fil-A Cheltenham, 2421 W. Cheltenham Ave., (267) 934-5853; Cedar Park Presbyterian Church, 7740 Limekiln Pike, (215) 549-9775; Heaven on Earth Christian Fellowship, 1468-1470 N. 52nd St., (215) 681-2356.”
Bady, the president of ABAP, added that “our efforts are centered around our mission statement, ‘to enhance, empower and improve the lives of Antiguans and Barbudans and members of the greater Philadelphia Community.’”
It is very vital that we come together as Caribbean Americans to support not just Barbuda but all the islands that have been affected by the devastating hurricanes that have torn through the region. Don’t just be a passive observer, be an active participant. Thank you.