Anguilla bounces back after intense hurricane season

Sunday, December 17, 2017

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THE VALLEY, Anguilla (CMC) — When Hurricane Irma swept across the Caribbean in September inflicting catastrophic damage to several islands, a 19-year-old radio reporter in Anguilla continued to broadcast during the worst of the Category 5 storm.

Nisha Dupuis recounted the experience to the United States National Public Radio’s (NPR) Robin Young a few days after the broadcast. She stayed on the air and tried to reassure Radio Anguilla listeners during the hurricane as storm shutters covering the station building flapped in the background, NPR said.

It said Young contacted Dupuis this week, who said Anguilla has made significant progress towards a full recovery.

“The people of Anguilla have proven to be quite resilient after Hurricane Irma,” Dupuis said. “Our restoration is still ongoing, but for the most part, you can see that the island is looking up. We do operate on a single economy —tourism being our main source of income — and we were able to reopen for this tourist season.”

Irma “substantially damaged” nearly 90 percent of government buildings and the island’s electricity infrastructure, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Anguilla electricity company said on its Facebook page that 87 percent of power has been restored on the island, and the utility expects remaining areas to be restored in the next three to five days, according to NPR.

It said that, after the storm hammered the island, Anguillan parliamentary secretary Cardigan Connor called 2017 a “bittersweet” year.

“We had stellar visitor growth through August, up 21 percent from the US alone, and we were on track for a record year until September 6 kicked in everything — windows, doors, roofs, homes, electricity, roads, businesses, hotels,” he said in October.

Nearly 30 small hotels, apartments and guesthouses have reopened or are planning to reopen for the holiday season, while the island’s major resorts, including Belmond Cap Juluca and the Four Seasons, plan to reopen sometime next year, NPR said.

Since the hotel industry is a main driver of Anguilla’s economy, Dupuis said many people have had to leave to find jobs, according to NPR.

“With the major hotels not opening up until perhaps sometime next year, a lot of people because of unemployment have of course had to seek jobs perhaps in the UK [United Kingdom] or elsewhere,” she said. “We’re hopeful that by next year when the most of the reconstruction starts to happen that a lot of people will of course come back home.”

The UK government recently approved a US$93 million aid package for its Caribbean territories, with the majority of that money going to Anguilla to repair the ferry terminal to St Martin and other infrastructure, Dupuis told NPR.

However, the UK had faced criticism for its slow response to the disaster.

“Our main challenge is to get our people through the next six months,” Connor said after the storm. “Our annual budget is US$200 million. The damage from Irma is more than that.”

Recovery across the Caribbean has been scattered, as several islands bore the brunt of both Hurricane Irma and Maria.

In Puerto Rico, more than 150,000 people have left the island for the mainland US after Maria knocked out the country’s fragile power grid. Sixty-four percent of electricity has been restored as of Friday, according to data on a website run by the island’s government.

In the US Virgin Islands, NPR said 59 percent of electricity has been restored, adding that the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority expect that number to rise to 90 percent by Christmas.

On the other hand, the sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda represent opposite ends of the spectrum as more than 90 percent of Barbuda’s buildings were destroyed, and the majority of residents have not returned.

However, Antigua suffered minimal damage and its airport and hotels reopened days after the storm.

In Anguilla, Dupuis said “people are saying that this is by far the worst hurricane that they’ve ever experienced.” She told Young in September that, shortly after the hurricane, the calls she received from listeners stayed in her mind.

“I was terrified. To be honest, when it really sank in for me is the 9-1-1 calls that we were getting because we were also relaying information to the Department of Disaster Management,” Dupuis said. “This one man — I’ll never forget what it sounded like speaking to him — he had a baby in the room, and his shutters were being blown out, and it’s like, ‘What do we do next?’”

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