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Jamaica trying to determine severity of Irma's impact on Caribbean neighbours

France, Britain, Holland rush aid to devastated islands

Friday, September 08, 2017

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The foreign affairs ministry yesterday said that it is still trying to determine the extent of the loss of lives, injury and damage as category five Hurricane Irma continues its rampage through the Caribbean.

However, its efforts are hampered by a lack of, or limited communication channels.

The dangerous hurricane tore through the Eastern Caribbean, wreaking havoc on the islands of Barbuda, Saint Martin and Sint Maarten as well as the British Virgin Islands over the past two of days. There are reports that the infrastructure in Barbuda was all but obliterated when Irma hit the tiny island on Wednesday. Prime Minister Gaston Browne is reported to have said that the entire housing stock was damaged, that 90 per cent of the nation's structures and vehicles were destroyed and that the island was now “barely habitable”.

In a release from the ministry yesterday, Jamaica's Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith stated that “Communication through the usual government channels and even with members of the Jamaican community in affected islands is extremely difficult. Notwithstanding these difficulties, we continue to pay close attention to official reports and to explore different avenues to try to reach [Caribbean] community members. We will provide more detailed updates in the hours to come, as more information becomes available.”

The ministry said however that it is in active contact with authorities in the region, with Jamaica's high commissioner in Port-of-Spain, consul general in Miami, honorary consuls, with other formal and informal sources, and with several Jamaican nationals.

“We are seeking to ascertain the kind of support and assistance that we can provide to our Caribbean brothers and sisters, as well as to our nationals who reside in the affected countries,” Johnson Smith said.

She expressed regret at the widely reported extensive damage to the islands, noting that the Government of Antigua & Barbuda has advised that communication is completely down, and access to Barbuda is restricted to helicopters, with access by boat limited due to treacherous seas.

The minister also said that Jamaica's representative in the Turks and Caicos Islands has expressed confidence in the emergency preparation plans of that Government and indicated that he had made efforts to encourage Jamaicans who remain on the island to follow official announcements and directions of the Government.

Meanwhile, French, British and Dutch military authorities yesterday rushed aid to the devastated string of Caribbean islands as Hurricane Irma spun toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.

Warships and planes were dispatched with food, water and troops after the fearsome Category 5 storm smashed homes, schools and roads, laying waste to some of the world's most beautiful and exclusive tourist destinations.

Hundreds of miles to the west, Florida braced for the onslaught, with forecasters warning that Irma could slam headlong into the Miami metropolitan area of six million people, punish the entire length of the state's Atlantic coast and move into Georgia and South Carolina.

More than a half-million people in Miami-Dade County were ordered to leave as Irma closed in with winds of 175 mph (281 kph).

“Take it seriously, because this is the real deal,” said Major Jeremy DeHart, a US Air Force Reserve weather officer who flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet.

The hurricane was still north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti yesterday evening, sweeping the neighbouring nations on Hispaniola island with high winds and rain while battering the Turks and Caicos islands on its other side.

Big waves smashed a dozen homes into rubble in the Dominican fishing community of Nagua, but work crews said all the residents had left before the storm. Officials said 11,200 people in all had evacuated vulnerable areas, while 55,000 soldiers had been deployed to help the clean-up.

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