The Caribbean’s leading disaster agency says it is seeing daily improvements in island nations battered by Hurricane Irma but the tourist-dependent region is in for a long recovery.
“The signs of hope are certainly very evident in many of our member states,” Ronald Jackson, the head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), said during a Thursday press conference broadcast on Facebook.
Jackson recently visited several British overseas territories impacted by Hurricane Irma where his disaster experts were deployed to help assess the emergency needs.
His report on the visit came as the U.S. and the Caribbean community continued efforts to get stranded citizens out of Dutch-territory St. Maarten. Also, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp prepared to welcome former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NBA star Tim Duncan to St. Thomas. Duncan is from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has helped raise money for the recovery. Mapp said earlier this week that he was frustrated by the pace of the relief distributions.
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During Thursday’s press conference, Jackson said he will be scaling back his agency’s presence in Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos, where residents in Providenciales have begun to repair their roofs, as early as Friday. But he’ll be increasing CDEMA’s presence in the British Virgin Islands where 75 to 80 percent of the housing stock has been damaged.
“We’re going to be looking at more people needing to be assisted over a longer period of time,” Jackson said of the BVI, where Premier D. Orlando Smith spent this week assuring residents that his elected government had not been dissolved because British Governor Augustus Jaspert had declared a state of emergency in the country.
“What this state of emergency does is allows us to receive assistance from the United Kingdom and other agencies, to support the response efforts to serve our people,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith said aid is arriving on island and being distributed. Major supermarkets are open and “we have food supplies for three weeks and ... more will be coming in.”
“We will not run out of food or drinking water,” he said. “In addition, I can confirm that we have on island, diesel and gas for three to five months and our gas companies are continuing their regular shipment and supply to our islands. We do not foresee any rationing of gas or food.”
Jackson said the BVI’s terrain is complex and its damage was much more extensive than Anguilla, which is far more advanced in its recovery but still in need of water purifiers, food aid, and a generator.
While CDEMA experts will soon be departing the Turks and Caicos, Jackson said $60,000 worth of supplies sent on behalf of it by the World Food Program is expected to arrive there as early as Saturday from Kingston, Jamaica.
“The greatest challenges identified in the Turks and Caicos at this time is to ensure that we can establish communication with all of the family islands,” Jackson said. “Communication is fairly good in Providenciales but in some of the outer islands it remains a challenge.”
He noted that the International Telecommunications Union is looking to assist to help the Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands.
Providing water and relief supplies in all three countries remain a priority, Jackson said. Another concern: getting schools up and running after many buildings were destroyed in the Caribbean.
One island in for a long recovery period is Barbuda. While Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne had described Irma’s damage at 95 percent, Jackson said “the estimate of 95 percent was low. I would put it at 99 percent.”
There were toppled tourism facilities, for example that were “built on sand,” he said.
“The rebuilding of Barbuda is going to take some time,” he said.
But it was not all damage and destruction as he toured the Caribbean, Jackson said. There were some bright spots. One was a cluster of three buildings that remained fully intact with the roof on. A similar pattern was observed in the British Virgin Islands.
“What it says to me is the Caribbean has the capability to build to withstand a Category 5 hurricane only if we recognize the importance of the building codes, the standards that need to be applied,” Jackson said.