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Islands affected by Irma still cleaning up

A visitor records the damage in Tortola. Photo courtesy Bishop Robert Llanos.

Hope to begin rebuilding soon

by Lara Pickford-Gordon,

Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of St John’s-Basseterre, Bishop Robert Llanos said he will have to find funding for the churches destroyed with the passing of Hurricane Irma last month.

Barbuda, and British Virgin Islands——-Tortola and Virgin Gorda experienced the most destruction; Barbuda’s inhabitants were evacuated to Antigua.

Bishop Llanos was in Tortola when Hurricane Maria passed September 18, almost a week after Irma. Interviewed in Antigua on October 9, Bishop Llanos said he presided at weekend Mass at St William Church, Road Town in Tortola and there were about 60 people in attendance which he said was “fairly good”. This church was partially damaged. Eight people were able to attend Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea at East End, which was “more damaged”.

Bishop Llanos planned to visit Tortola with a quantity surveyor and contractor from St Lucia who would provide an assessment and costing for the churches and presbyteries destroyed in the diocese.

A container with tarpaulins, cleaning articles etc arrived September 22 from Miami. He had personally “sent a generator and water pump for the priest because there is nothing”.

In St Ursula’s, in The Valley, Virgin Gorda, only five pews were saved. Bishop Llanos said, “The first weekend after the hurricane there were about nine people, the weekend after there were about fifteen people.” There was “no transport” and buildings were “mashed up”. The congregation would normally be about 40 persons.

“A little side table with a white cloth” was being used for Mass, and although the altar of St Ursula’s was not destroyed, the church cannot be used.

Caritas Internationalis, a humanitarian and development organisation of the Catholic Church; US Catholic Relief Services and British Red Cross were setting up a “money card” system for the people of Tortola and Virgin Gorda, “to give them a certain amount of US dollars for rebuilding. This is strictly for building materials and/or things like stoves or fridges, furniture loss, that kind of stuff, that’s in place for the people and we are trying to get a wide cross section of people and the poorest of the poor among them.”

He said there were Catholics “on the ground” identifying families and homes most in need. The information would be used so funding and materials would be “directed to those families”. The authorities have given approval for persons to go into communities to gather the information.

The diocese has now shifted from emergency relief to reconstruction. “People are trying to put into place procedures for rebuilding, restoring their buildings, their roofs which itself is a complicated thing. We are looking for building materials now as much as we can get because there is a lot to be done and that is for everywhere.”

Bishop Llanos observed that the different islands have “different complications”. In Tortola many of the lower-income residents and immigrants occupied rentals so they cannot conduct repairs and must wait on the landlords: “It is very problematic.”

Duty has been removed on certain materials for reconstruction. In Antigua tax has been waived on aid provisions, and in Tortola and Virgin Gorda, self-governing British overseas territories, there will be no tax on relief items coming in.

Supplies sent to the diocese are being handed over to the government representative for storage and distribution. Two containers of goods sent from Trinidad and Tobago were handed over to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Charles Fernandez. However, these were re-directed to Dominica which “at the time” had a greater need for water and food stuff.

In a Catholic Radio 89.7 FM interview October 3 on the Church’s response to the hurricanes, he said a container of construction material from Trinidad and Tobago would go directly to Barbuda. Florida-based Food for the Poor was expected to send containers which will be distributed among the islands in need.

A container of construction and cleaning materials from a private business in Florida would go to Tortola and Virgin Gorda, another shipment from Panama containing tarpaulins, construction and cleaning stuff is earmarked for Antigua and Barbuda.

Bishop Llanos told the Catholic News containers of building materials are being sent directly to Barbuda for when rebuilding starts.  “They are still in the cleaning up stage. That is a major exercise. That is still going on right now.”

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