After the near-annihilation of tiny Barbuda by Hurricane Irma, its 1,700 evacuated residents took shelter on its sister island of Antigua, hunkering down in government buildings and residential homes as Hurricane Jose approached.
But the island nation caught a lucky break as Jose turned and missed both islands, Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador to the United States from Antigua and Barbuda, said Saturday. Not that a hit on Barbuda could have done much more damage on the now-desolate island. Updated surveys had indicated that nearly 100 of its buildings had been damaged or destroyed, Sanders said.
“Jose would have only added to the debris,” he said. “There’s no one there now. It’s like a scene from winter without snow. No grass. No trees. It is just rubble. We now have refugees from Barbuda in Antigua, and will have to sustain their lives for months, probably years, as we rebuild.”
The powerful tropical cyclone, which was barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, has weakened within the past 12 hours but remains a dangerous Category 4 storm, officials said. Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm.
Forecasters say the storm will move away from the northern Leeward Islands Saturday night and is expected to gradually weaken over the next couple of days. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also suffered heavy damage during Irma.
Signs of Jose’s weakening came Saturday, when warnings were gradually lifted.
Warnings and storm watches for Saba, Sint Eustatius, Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Thomas and St. John of the U.S. Virgin Islands also have all been discontinued.
Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts, however, remain on a tropical storm warning.
Dutch officials said that Sint Maarten, a territory of the Kingdom of Netherlands, was left vulnerable after Irma damaged or destroyed 70 percent of homes there.
The alarming announcement of another massive hurricane comes as military personnel and emergency responders from the United States and Europe rush to aid those still reeling from Irma, which roared across the same region as a Category 5 storm on Wednesday.
On the devastated island of Barbuda, authorities and private tour operators scrambled to evacuate the remainder of its residents to nearby Antigua. A poor, impoverished and indebted nation, Sanders said his country would reach out for international aid for a reconstruction effort that could take years and cost $150 million or more. He said the United States has yet to pledge help.
“We have reached out for assistance to the U.S., but I’ve been told they could not promise anything because, I suppose, they have challenges of their own in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We will have to look to the broader international community,” he said.
Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda, described Barbuda as though it were a tropical ghost town of broken buildings and fallen trees.
“It’s uninhabitable. I would literally say that 100 percent of the infrastructure is gone. Light, water, communication, it’s a total blackout,” Joseph said.
There was only one fatality on the island — a 2-year-old boy identified Friday as Carl Junior Francis. He was found by neighbors the day prior, having been swept away by storm surge as Irma pounded the island and ripped off the roof of his family’s home, the Associated Press reported.
On Antigua, evacuees were hunkered down and preparing for Jose’s possible hit.
“People are worried, when they see images of Barbuda, that it could be Antigua next,” Joseph said.
In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, Irma’s fury left homes and businesses shattered across the 16-mile island. Local officials pleaded with residents Friday to take all precautions ahead of Jose to ensure their survival, and they encouraged people to quickly clear existing debris so it could be removed and battened down, as not to pose a threat during the next wave of dangerous weather.
With telecommunication services severed, police traveled the island’s neighborhoods Friday to relay what information they had about Jose’s path, said Patrick Lynch, who operates Roy’s Bayside Grill. Reached Friday afternoon via Facebook, he seemed unaware the storm had reached such ferocious strength.
Though badly damaged, the restaurant was planning to open Friday and serve limited lunch and dinner items. “People need a place to go, connect, talk about what has happened and feel normal for an hour or two,” Lynch said, “so we’re going to try and provide that.
In closing, he wrote: “Please keep Anguilla in the news, the destruction is island-wide. The people here are good and friendly. … It is a jewel in the Caribbean, and it needs help.”
The U.S. military has dispatched six warships, plus helicopters, cargo planes, National Guard troops and thousands of pounds of supplies to help hurricane victims throughout the Caribbean.
On Saturday, three Navy vessels were positioned off the Virgin Islands, with troops going ashore in battered St. Thomas to conduct medical evacuations, search-and-rescue missions and to help clear debris. The other three ships, inbound from Norfolk, were delayed. Jose had forced them to adjust course while in transit, the Pentagon said.
The military will provide generators, fuel and gas, water-purification systems and tools to clear roads choked with storm debris, according to the U.S. Northern Command. The Army Corps of Engineers sent teams to U.S. territories to help restore electricity, and National Guard personnel were activated to help with evacuations and search-and-rescue efforts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency spoke of a “complete power/communications collapse” in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but people trapped there have become frustrated and despondent.
Amy Larson, who runs a charter-boat business there, said she has been in Florida as her husband weathered Irma’s wrath on St. John. In tears, she said, “People are very concerned. They want to get off the island. They need supplies. They don’t feel like anybody is giving them any sort of attention.”
France and the Netherlands also moved to respond to some of Irma’s worst destruction on St. Martin, an island they share, and St. Barts, a French overseas territory. The French government deployed 455 police, military and other personnel on Friday, with double that number expected by Saturday.