Caribbean hurricanes

This article appears on page 20 of the November 2017 issue.

The month of September saw a series of devastating hurricanes hitting the Caribbean, killing at least 47 people and reducing a number of islands to rubble. The hurricanes caused damage of some sort on nearly every Caribbean island.

Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, made landfall on Sept. 6 in the Eastern Caribbean. Worst hit was the island of Barbuda, the smaller, northernmost island of the nation Antigua & Barbuda. Irma’s 180-mile-per-hour winds destroyed at least 90% of the buildings on the island, leaving the entire population of about 1,600 people homeless. Only one person on Barbuda was killed.

Every resident on Barbuda was evacuated to Antigua, which suffered relatively little damage, leaving Barbuda completely unpopulated for the first time in recorded history.-

Also badly damaged was the island of St. Martin, shared by the Netherlands (Sint Maarten) and France (Saint-Martin). More than 90% of the buildings in Saint-Martin were reported to be heavily damaged, and Sint Maarten’s airport, one of the largest in the Caribbean, was also seriously damaged. Four deaths were reported on the island. 

While these two islands were the worst hit, Irma also wreaked havoc in Anguilla (one death, 90% of infrastructure damaged), the British Virgin Islands (seven people killed, 80% of buildings damaged), Cuba (10 people killed and more than two million evacuated, with 13 provinces reporting damage), the Dominican Republic (24,000 people displaced), Haiti (one dead, one missing) and Turks & Caicos (80%-90% of buildings damaged in South Caicos).

Irma was followed in quick succession by Hurricane Maria, another Category 5 storm, with winds of up to 155 miles per hour. Maria left 15 people dead on the island of Dominica, with 20 still missing as of press time. 

Maria then made landfall in Puerto Rico, killing 13 people and leaving the entire island without power; power may not be available again for months. Thousands of people near Guajataca Lake in northwestern Puerto Rico were forced to evacuate as an earthen dam damaged by the storm threatened to fail.

Because of the route of Maria, most islands escaped the worst of its winds, with only minor damage reported elsewhere in the Caribbean.