by Anita Dullard

“Everything is decimated. Concrete buildings are literally pulled apart, trees that were 200 years old snapped in two. There are empty lots of land where buildings were yesterday, 40 foot containers scattered over the island.”

This is the scene in Barbuda described by Michael Joseph, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross, where 95 per cent of buildings have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

Mandatory evacuation is underway for residents of Barbuda as a second hurricane, Hurricane Jose, looms. Mr. Joseph said that, despite the damage, people are hesitant to leave. “Even people who have lost everything, are reluctant to evacuate to the relative safety of Antigua,” he said. “They’re not sure what’s going to happen next, where they are going to stay, if they are going to become a burden.”

“I understand how worrying it is for people, but from a humanitarian perspective I support a mandatory evacuation. There is nothing left in Barbuda – no power, no communication infrastructure, no water. If something were to happen overnight, it would be impossible to assist.”

Providing information to communities critical

In the lead up to Hurricane Irma – the strongest Atlantic storm on record – volunteers from the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross were on the ground providing information on how to be prepared to survive the catastrophic storm.

“In the 48 hours leading up to Hurricane Irma, we were out in communities with flyers and checklists on how to prepare, pushing information through social media,” Michael Joseph said. “We were on TV and radio demonstrating what to take in grab and go bag.

“We have not seen a hurricane of this scale for decades and so we were concerned there might be some complacency. But people took our information and the warnings that were made very seriously, and acted to keep themselves safe.”

In addition to supporting Caribbean National Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with the British, French, Netherlands and American Red Cross Societies which have territories and overseas branches in several Caribbean islands.

They’re working alongside communities to prepare and evacuate people to safe shelters, conduct rapid needs assessments, and provide initial relief and support. Shelter is a major priority, especially on the smaller islands that bore the brunt of Irma’s fury. Water and sanitation are also a major concern.

The IFRC released 720,000 Swiss francs in emergency funds to support the initial response efforts in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.