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Tragedy caused by Irma touches all

Operator Kamera Morlai removes a completed pallet from the floor at the Living Water Community warehouse, Frederick Settlement, Caroni last Tuesday. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss


By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

As the extent of the disaster in Barbuda and other islands becomes clearer after the September 5 passing of Category 5 Hurricane Irma, Apostolic Administrator for St John’s-Basseterre Bishop Robert Llanos called for persons to come forward and share from “their safe places” with those in need.

Bishop Llanos wrote to “all bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC)” September 12 on the hurricane’s impact on the diocese which includes Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands-Tortola and Virgin Gorda.

Irma destroyed more than 90 per cent of Barbuda’s infrastructure and prompted the evacuation of the island as Hurricane Jose approached. More than 30 people were killed in the Caribbean as a result of the hurricane. At a media briefing September 9, the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) Antigua estimated the damage to homes and buildings in Barbuda was US$200 million exclusive of other estimates of damage. According to the Antigua Observer website, “All critical infrastructure and utilities are non-existent – food supply, medicine, shelter, electricity, water, communications, waste management.”

Philmore Mullin, NODS director said debris had to be cleared before residents could return. He expected this to take three to nine months depending on the Antigua and Barbuda government having the “materials on the ground and sufficient work crews” when  needed.

Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands also had severe damage. Bishop Llanos said “While persons displaced were putting on brave faces, their eyes conveyed the trauma they were experiencing.”

He advised the bishops that many families had lost everything including permanent jobs and sources of income. Schools were destroyed, and education in the near future “was very tenuous”. Bishop Llanos said when disasters like Irma occurred the “whole humanity” is touched. He stated “All of us must carry the pain of others in our efforts to be generous and compassionate in our caring.”

Bishop Llanos has asked the bishops for as much material and financial assistance as possible not only for his diocese but also for St Maarten, St Barts, The Bahamas, and US Virgin islands. AEC bishops were due to meet Wednesday 3 p.m. via video conferencing to discuss the situation in the islands.

The Diocese of St John’s-Basseterre had made the Mt Tabor Retreat Centre, John Hughes, St Mary, Antigua available as temporary housing for Barbudans left homeless. It is also assisting with “basic necessities”.

Bishop Robert Llanos made contact with Charles Fernandez, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Immigration who is in charge of hurricane relief operations for the government.

Bishop Llanos told the Catholic News last Tuesday the diocese was awaiting government approval of the facility and confirmation of persons willing to take up the offer. The retreat centre can accommodate about ten families, and first priority will be given to small families with young children, and single-parent mothers.

Bishop Llanos has been in contact with the Living Water Community (LWC), Caritas Internationalis in St Lucia, and Food for the Poor, Miami, identifying items needed.

Communication between the islands making up the diocese was slowly being restored. There was “minimal damage” to Antigua, Montserrat, and St Kitts and Nevis. However, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla “didn’t fare well”.

Doors and windows of the presbytery in Anguilla were ripped off, and the St Gerard’s church was flooded and its stained glass windows damaged.

Up to last Monday, telecommunications were down in Tortola; Virgin Gorda “totally inaccessible” and the whereabouts of the priest on the island unknown. The island was only accessible by ferry.

In Tortola, the new church Mary Star of the Sea was almost completely damaged due to its vulnerable location close to the sea. The roof of the apartment behind St William church, Road Town was blown off.  The resident priest had evacuated before Irma’s passing. He returned to find looting had taken place and the tabernacle was tampered with. However, he was able to secure the hosts. The residence of the priest at Great Mountain was uninhabitable. Bishop Llanos was hoping to travel to Tortola via helicopter last Wednesday.

He visited two shelters in Antigua, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, and a nursing training facility renovated to accommodate the displaced. Describing the mood of the persons, he said they were “not beaten down” but “sitting and staring” as if their thoughts were elsewhere.

Bishop Llanos said a few hotels were functioning as temporary shelters while the government prepared more permanent locations. He commended the “well-organised” response of the Antigua and Barbuda government.

The LWC Hurricane Relief got going before it was announced as members of the public began dropping off supplies of water, food, blankets, and toiletries since September 8. Rosemary Scott, Assistant Director LWC said they anticipated LWC “would be doing something”. Support has also been shown through donations of money. Scott said the response has been “tremendous”.

By the end of last week, a shipment of relief supplies to aid persons at shelters was expected to leave Trinidad and Tobago for Antigua, but weather and sea conditions would determine departure. “Conditions have to be safe,” Scott said.

The Community has requested donations of water, non-perishable foods, toiletries, cots, small mattresses, sheets/blankets, towels etc. Scott added that baby supplies and sanitary napkins will also be useful. In an updated list sent out last Tuesday, LWC added toilet-bowl cleaner, insect repellent, sanitisers, and grooming items (combs, brushes, hair grease).

The LWC has asked for self-opening cans for donated canned food. One of the “lessons” learnt from hurricane relief efforts of the past was that persons were getting tinned items but had no can openers. She said “can openers” would be useful when giving tinned goods.

LWC is accepting cash donations at its RBC Park Street account #100091110130182.

Operator Kamera Morlai removes a completed pallet from the floor at the Living Water Community warehouse, Frederick Settlement, Caroni last Tuesday. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss
Damaged boats in Tortola, Photo courtesy the Diocese of St John's-Basseterre
Bishop Robert Llanos speaks with a coordinator during his visit to a shelter. Photo: Fr Pierre Tevi-Benissan, Vicar General