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Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction will have a huge economic impact on the Caribbean, which depends on tourism and the image of a tropical paradise to lure greenbacks and Euros. The storm will also damage the livelihoods of many on the islands.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that a significant portion of South Caicos — in the Turks and Caicos Islands — has been damaged or destroyed. If accurate, that would mean much of the working population who depend on the fishing industry will be affected. Along with the island’s Belongers, as they are called, a sizable Haitian and Dominican population work in the fishing industry, sending money to families back home. Many also live in wooden homes that are most vulnerable to a storm.
South Caicos along with the capital of Grand Turk were struck by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Some residents just got back in their homes, and fishermen who lost their boats during that hurricane still hadn’t fully recovered when Irma struck.
Here are some preliminary reports on damage from around the Caribbean:
The Haitian government has not confirmed any deaths after Irma skirted the island’s northern coast, but did report one person missing.
The storm flooded several communities in northeastern and northwestern Haiti, leaving rural villages cut off due to washed out roads and swollen rivers. Irma also made the main road connecting the city of Cap-Haitien in the north with the country’s Central Plateau impassable. On Saturday, Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant visited several storm victims in the northeast. The country’s disaster office also issued warnings of heavy rains and winds in various regions of Haiti late Saturday night.
Some islands remained under a tropical storm warning Sunday as Hurricane Irma’s eye approached Key West. Residents of Bimini and Grand Bahama were warned that they could experience extensive flooding as Irma battered Florida. The National Emergency Management Agency plans to begin assessments early next week, but is receiving reports of extensive damage in Ragged Island. Bahamas’ Ministry of Education also called on all teachers and administrators in islands given the all clear to return to work on Monday. The international airport also was scheduled to resume operations Sunday.
Teams from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) began arriving in affected countries Sunday to help coordinate relief efforts among different nations and agencies.
During an emergency meeting with leaders of the Caribbean Community, immediate needs were identified for those most affected, particularly Barbuda, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. The needs included: water, food items, plywood, tarps and cash.
The CDEMA also has launched an emergency relief fund for donations to help the islands affected by Irma.
Turks and Caicos
The international airport in Providenciales, which was flooded by Irma, is only allowing humanitarian flights for now.
The commissioner of the Royal Turks and Caicos Police said that while cell phone communication is working in Providenciales, the government still does not have communication with Grand Turk or any of the Caicos Islands (North, Middle or South) in the British Overseas Territory.
“The utilities companies are working really hard to reestablish that communication,” said Commissioner James Smith. Efforts are also being made to restore power in Providenciales, the main tourist hub of the islands. He said there were no deaths as a result of the hurricane and no one seriously injured.
FEMA is air delivering supplies like food, water and roof tarps to St. Thomas and St. John and inmates will be relocated off the island Sunday.
“Recovery for St. Thomas and St. John will be a long and continuous process towards restoration,” Gov. Kenneth Mapp said in a statement.
St. Croix’s airport is being used as a staging ground for relief for USVI’s neighbor, the British Virgin Islands.
British Virgin Islands Premier Orlando Smith Obe on Sunday confirmed the arrival of marines and engineers from the United Kingdom to the territory.
“This means we can start the process of getting the territory secured, assess how to bring power and water back online, and improve access and communications to the BVI,” Smith said.
The damage to the territory has been widespread, including in Tortola, where tourism facilities have been severely damaged. “It will take time for us to be in a position to welcome tourists again,” Smith said in a statement.
Only approved relief flights are being allowed into the British overseas territory.
President Donald Trump approved disaster declarations for areas of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico continued to provide assistance to U.S. citizens stranded in St. Thomas and in St. Martin and St. Maarten due to Irma.
Power, water and cell service are slowly returning to Puerto Rico, according to tweets from Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. The island is serving as a gathering point for displaced tourists and residents in Irma’s path. The first group arrived Saturday, with thousands more expected in coming days as cruise ships ferry tourists to Puerto Rico and its functional airport.
Follow Jacqueline Charles on Twitter: @Jacquiecharles