Days after Irma, still no word from some Caribbean islands

Days after Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean, leveling entire islands and claiming at least 20 lives, officials still haven’t heard from some areas hit by the storm or fully assessed the damage. A second storm in the region — Category 4 Hurricane Jose — seemed likely to spare many of the islands a second strike.

On Saturday, Irma churned over the north coast of Cuba hours before it is predicted to turn toward Florida and head up the state’s west coast. Right on its heels, Hurricane Jose, looked to be headed east, away from the islands Irma ravaged days before. St. Martin, both the French and Dutch sides, as well as St. Barthelemy remained under hurricane warnings.

In Barbuda, the tiny island where Irma destroyed 95 percent of houses and left more than half of the population homeless, a hurricane warning was downgraded to a tropical storm warning hours after all residents were evacuated to neighboring Antigua.

The only death on Barbuda was a 2-year-old girl swept away by floodwaters. In St. Martin and St. Barts, 11 were killed, along with four each in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and one on Anguilla.

A 16-year-old junior professional surfer drowned Tuesday while surfing Irma’s waves off the coast of Barbados.

Nearly a day after Irma hit Turks and Caicos, government officials and families still haven’t heard anything from Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay, hit directly by Irma’s eye. On Friday, a former premier of the county, Michael Misick, said it was “unacceptable” that the current premier and government hadn’t done an aerial survey of the hardest hit parts of the island.

“We don’t know the fate of our brothers and sister in those islands,” Misick said. “In Providenciales, it is unacceptable and unsafe that 12 hours after the storm has passed there has been no attempt to remove a single pole from the road. What are we waiting on to begin pumping the water off the road and removing the poles?”

U.S. officials haven’t been able to reach St. Martin and instead are relying on the Dutch and French government to aid the U.S. citizens trapped there. A Canadian couple stuck in a resort with no power, running water and rationed food were finally able to contact family on Friday night. The couple, Michael Moriarty and Meryl Zavitz, told Moriarty’s sister, Monique Balmforth, that Dutch officials cleared the nearby runway, but because the island is without power, pilots are only able to evacuate tourists until dusk. Anyone left after that will have to ride out Hurricane Jose on the island, Balmforth said.

Cindy Peters, a volunteer with the Sint Marteen Tallahassee Association, said she and her 60 exchange students from the island are all anxiously checking social media for updates on their friends and family back home. With phone service down on most of the island, Facebook has become the most important medium of communication, along with a local radio station, Laser 101 FM. The station, the only one operating in St. Martin, is relaying messages between the island and the U.S., Peters said.

“We are a resilient people,” Peters said. “Yes, it’s a tragic situation in terms of the devastation, but we see this in terms of an opportunity to rebuild better and more beautifully than we have before.”

She said Irma was “a rough one” for the Caribbean and called for international help, some of which is already in place.

British troops landed in Barbados Friday evening for relief efforts in the islands torn up by Hurricane Irma. They brought cash and ships stocked with vehicles, tents and water purification facilities. One ship, the HMS Ocean, is being diverted to the Caribbean until Hurricane Jose passes, after which it will return for relief efforts.

The U.S. sent 1,000 Marines and 11 U.S. Marine Corps aircraft into the Caribbean, and U.S. Northern Command is providing urban search-and-rescue capabilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Officials stationed the USS Wasp near the Virgin Islands to medically evaluate patients and do damage assessments.

In Puerto Rico, where Irma hit Thursday afternoon, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tweeted Saturday morning that 58 percent of residents had power again.

This story was supplemented with information from The Associated Press.