Days after Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean, leveling entire islands and claiming at least 20 lives, islanders and tourists are still stuck without electricity, running water or means of communication.
On Saturday, Irma churned over the north coast of Cuba hours before it began its predicted turn toward Florida’s west coast. Right on its heels, Hurricane Jose looked to be headed east, away from the islands Irma ravaged days before.
In Barbuda, the tiny island where Irma destroyed a majority of homes and left more than half of the population homeless, a hurricane warning for Jose was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, though residents had all been evacuated to Antigua hours earlier.
The only death on Barbuda was a 2-year-old girl swept away by flood waters. In St. Martin and St. Barts, 11 were killed, along with four each in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and one on Anguilla. A 16-year-old junior professional surfer drowned Tuesday while surfing Irma’s waves off the coast of Barbados.
After a day of radio silence from hard hit parts of the Turks and Caicos islands, James Smith, commissioner of police , said on Facebook that he had visited Grand Turk, Salt Cay South and Middle Caicos on Saturday. He reported no deaths or injuries from the storm, although there were extensive damages and communications were still down.
For Sharon Price, whose niece was visiting Grand Turk when the hurricane struck, the report came as an enormous relief. She had been trying to reach her niece, Latoya Carey-Russell, since Thursday when Carey-Russell was frantically trying to book a flight to higher ground.
The days of unanswered texts and calls had Price in tears, but when she learned the police commissioner reported no deaths, she let out a huge sigh. “Thank God,” she said. “Oh, thank God.”
The power company on the island, Fortis TCI, reported Saturday afternoon that more than 500 power poles were knocked down and the company can’t yet estimate how long restoration efforts will take.
U.S. officials were running a rescue mission for the 800 U.S. citizens trapped St. Martin, where a reported 70 percent of homes were destroyed, from an air force base in Arizona. More Americans, some believed to be students, will be evacuated after Hurricane Jose passes Puerto Rico.
Canadian citizens, however, have watched in frustration as their American counterparts are evacuated.
A Canadian couple stuck in a resort with no power, running water and rationed food were finally able to contact family on Friday night. The couple, Michael Moriarty and Meryl Zavitz, told Moriarty’s sister, Monique Balmforth, that Dutch officials cleared the nearby runway, but because the island is without power, pilots are only able to evacuate tourists until dusk. Anyone left after that will have to ride out Hurricane Jose on the island, Balmforth said.
In an email to friends and family Saturday night, the couple said they were in danger of being kicked out of their resort and desperately called for government help.
“We are on the brink!!!!!!,” they wrote. “HELP HELP HELP.”
On the Dutch side, Cindy Peters, a volunteer with the Sint Marteen Tallahassee Association, said she and her 60 exchange students from the island are all anxiously checking social media for updates on their friends and family back home. With phone service down on most of the island, Facebook has become the best way to communicate, along with a local radio station, Laser 101 FM. The station, the only one operating in St. Martin, is relaying messages between the island and the U.S., Peters said.
“We are a resilient people,” Peters said. “Yes, it’s a tragic situation in terms of the devastation, but we see this in terms of an opportunity to rebuild better and more beautifully than we have before.”
She said Irma was “a rough one” for the Caribbean and called for international help, some of which is already in place.
British troops landed in Barbados Friday evening for relief efforts in the islands torn up by Hurricane Irma. They brought cash and ships stocked with vehicles, tents and water purification facilities. One ship, the HMS Ocean, is being diverted to the Caribbean until Hurricane Jose passes, after which it will return for relief efforts.
The U.S. sent 1,000 Marines and 11 U.S. Marine Corps aircraft into the Caribbean, and U.S. Northern Command is providing urban search-and-rescue capabilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Officials stationed the USS Wasp near the Virgin Islands to medically evaluate patients and do damage assessments.
In Puerto Rico, where Irma hit Thursday afternoon, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tweeted Saturday morning that 58 percent of residents had power again.
This story was supplemented with information from The Associated Press.