As powerful Hurricane Jose loomed in the distance Friday, residents of the Caribbean island of Barbuda fled to neighboring Antigua.
By 4 p.m., almost everyone had been evacuated. Only police and military personnel remained behind to secure the island.
Hurricane Irma already destroyed over 90 percent of the island’s infrastructure and left more than half of the residents homeless. The government did not want to take any more chances, said Maj. Alando Michael, operations officer for the National Office of Disaster Services in Antigua and Barbuda.
“We are not sure of the structures that were left there,” he said.
Steadroy Benjamin, Antigua and Barbuda’s attorney general and minister of public safety, issued a mandatory evacuation order for Barbuda on Friday morning. The government ferried some residents to Antigua while others made the trip in private boats. Boat owners in Antigua also hit the waters to help with evacuation efforts.
That assistance proved key as the number of safe evacuation routes rapidly started to narrow and authorities had to switch to airplane evacuations.
“We were having a challenge using only maritime assets as the seas were getting choppy,” said Michael.
Upon arriving in Antigua, residents were treated for medical issues at a processing station in St. Johns. For many, the past few days have taken a physical and mental toll. Dehydration and exhaustion were the most common complaints, according to Michael.
The evacuees were taken to one of four emergency shelters, most located in schools. Many Antigua residents also opened up their homes.
This was the first chance many Barbuda residents had to contact the outside world since Irma knocked out communication on Wednesday. Phone lines are currently open in Antigua for family and friends overseas to reach out to their loved ones.
It’s unclear when residents will be able to return home.
“Almost all of the houses have to be rebuilt,” said Elvis Murray-Watkins, director general of the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross Society, who was in Barbuda on Thursday. “This is going to take months.”
Until residents can return to Barbuda, the government is looking to provide short-term housing in Antigua.
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