While most tourists have been evacuated, the people remaining on the Caribbean islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma are in “dire need” of water, food and shelter.
Hurricane Irma slammed the isolated islands as a Category 5 storm that leveled some areas and killed at least 20 people. The damage left thousands homeless, without functioning infrastructure, evacuation methods or adequate supplies. A constellation of international aid groups is pouring money, staff and aid into the islands, but some say it’s not getting to those who need it the most.
Travelers from Irma-devastated Saint Martin continued arriving in San Juan Tuesday, as the U.S. government and Puerto Rican authorities scrambled to evacuate them from an island they said could no longer support life.
Charles Morrison, 89, from New York, said the island's main water tower had been destroyed in the storm, and imported drinking water was running critically low.
"The people have to get out because there's no water to drink," he said. "That's the end of Saint Martin."
The shared French and Dutch island lies about 200 miles east of Puerto Rico and lost almost all of its communication during the Category 5 storm. As travelers have trickled in from the island, they've brought reports of looting, thefts and desperation.
Morrison — who was vacationing on the Dutch side of the island — called the crimes acts of necessity.
"I wouldn't call it stealing, people are trying to survive," he explained. "They don't have food or water."
The island’s public prosecutor office said military and police units have put an end to large-scale robberies and looting, but the government isn’t sure how many people were detained, and lack of detention space meant authorities were forced to release low-level offenders. When internet and telephone services are in operation again, officials plan to post pictures of videos of suspected looters online in hopes of identifying them, according to a press release. A viral video making the rounds shows a crowd of people carrying boxes out of an electronics store.
“Plunderers who voluntarily reported themselves... and did not commit serious robbery are being used by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.. to carry out rehabilitation work on the island,” the statement read.
Princess Juliana International Airport suffered major damages and only recently re-opened, exclusively for disaster relief and charter flights. A reported 70 percent of homes were destroyed, and the handful of supermarkets that weren’t destroyed have been emptied by looters, said Cindy Peters, a volunteer with the Sint Maarten Tallahassee Association.
Peters said her social media feeds are full of pleas for aid from her home country of St. Maarten, Some aid was delayed by Hurricane Jose, which mostly left the island unscathed.
The resources that do reach the island aren’t making it to the more remote and needy areas of the island, she said. Much of the food and water is snatched up when it first arrives. Police resources are being diverted for the arrivals of high-profile government officials — like the Dutch King and France’s President.
“People are in dire need of drinking water and potable water and the government needs to do as much as they can,” she said. “I hope that when the officials show up and go on these tours they are also bringing supplies.”
At a Tuesday press conference, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said the World Food Programme is sending 20 tons of high-energy biscuits, which can feed 17,000 for three days, to Antigua for Barbuda evacuees and to nearby St. Martin. WFP also sent mobile storage units, tarps, prefabricated buildings, generators and other logistics and telecommunications support equipment.
The Turks and Caicos islands are getting another 10 tons of the biscuits to feed the more than 8,500 needy people. The Governor of Turks and Caicos declared the islands a disaster area with most of the buildings damaged, including major government buildings and a hospital. On South Caicos, which had infrequent communications following its devastation in the storm, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said nearly 90 percent of homes were damaged. Almost 2,000 of the island’s residents will be evacuated to Provo.
The international airport in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos is fully open, while the airports in Grand Turk and South Caicos are only open to emergency service flights.
The utility companies continue to work to restore power, water and telephone throughout the islands while some residents in Providenciales continue to get water and power back, Premier Sharlene Cartwright Robinson said.
A contingent from the British Army and Royal Marine Commandos are in the islands, along with disaster experts from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency to conduct initial assessments.
Relief supplies also were transported to North and Middle Caicos, and limited food aid to Grand Turk. The Turks and Caicos government also began organizing ferry services to allow residents from Salt Cay, which was evacuated ahead of the hurricane, to return home.
The relief effort continued for islands as well.
A vessel is scheduled to leave Saint Lucia for Anguilla on Wednesday, and St. Lucians are being urged to donate much needed hurricane relief items to be loaded onto the vessel.
Meanwhile, another vessel is scheduled to leave Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday to take food and emergency supplies to the British Virgin Islands. On the way it will stop in Saint Lucia to pickup supplies being sent by friends and families.
St. Lucia also agreed to take some inmates from a “badly damaged” prison in the British Virgin Islands, some of whom appear to have escaped, according to the Telegraph.
In Haiti, the storm released enough rain and wind to damage communities in the Northwest and Northeast.
According to a partial assessment by Haitian authorities, the storm damaged 8,015 homes and of those, 2,646 suffered serious damages and 466 were destroyed. Some 22 counties in six regions experienced some flooding, and more than 6,000 people remained in shelters. The government reported one death, one disappearance and 17 injuries as a result of the storm.
There was also serious loss to agriculture in the Central Plateau, Northeast and Northwest regions of the country.