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Living through Irma

Delcina Yearwood

For the people who experienced the force of Hurricane Irma first-hand, it is an experience they will never forget. Writer LARA PICKFORD-GORDON spoke to two Barbudans at the National Technical Training Centre, Nugent Avenue, St John’s, Antigua on October 6 about the fateful day and how they are coping. 

Fifty-three year-old Devon Christian says Hurricane Irma was “the monster” which sucked out his home in Codrington, the main town, and swept away everything. Irma, approximately 600 miles wide, with winds of more than 185 miles/hr, gusts 200 mph caused more than 100 deaths in the Caribbean and Florida.

For 30 years, Christian had a steady job as barman at the Coco Point Lodge, Barbuda. He lived in Codrington with his girlfriend, four-year-old daughter, two sons ages six and seven, and a stepson. On September 6 Irma changed everything.

At 1.30 p.m. on September 5 the wind was howling and pounding the house. “We were not expecting it to be so strong and dangerous,” Christian said. They thought it would pass over Barbuda and be gone. This was not to be.

“We were there holding down the fort and then the door was ripped off. I tried to get the fridge down on the ground to push the door back in and everything just overpowered me and I had to give up.”

The family sought refuge behind the wall between the bathroom and the kitchen, the only one left standing. He shielded the children with his body, “anything could kill me but [I must] save my children.” Looking outside all they saw were white clouds.  Christian said after the eye of the hurricane passed the family sought shelter in the home of a neighbour whose roof was destroyed but whose concrete structure was mostly undamaged.

“We managed to stay until morning break. We tried to figure out how we were going out, there was no communication whatsoever on the island so we could not radio… The government sent in some help and people started to get water, dry food.”

The government made arrangements for Barbudans to be evacuated to Antigua.  Christian said the men with the possessions they could carry were transported on a sand barge, while other residents were transported on other kinds of vessels. He had nothing to salvage; all his official documents were “swept out of the house”.  Christian has to apply to replace them in Antigua. He said he was briefly hospitalised after arriving because his blood pressure went up.

The change was a shock for the children but they have adjusted and are enrolled in school. Family in Antigua is willing to provide accommodations and assist, but he would like to be independent and have a job to earn an income. Regular patrons of the Coco Lodge familiar with him have also offered to assist.

Christian said living in a shelter is not a good thing but the family is trying to cope. He hoped to return to Barbuda to rebuild and “start a new life” however, he knew this would take time because electricity and water supply have to be restored. The children’s education is also a priority.

Boats tossed aside

Meanwhile, on the day Irma passed Delcina Yearwood, 49, was working at a geriatric home. She stayed until 2 p.m. getting them settled, then left for her home, a 30-minute drive out of Codrington. Windows of the house were boarded up and she instructed her children to secure important documents.

Yearwood said she was housesitting for relatives in England and thought it would be safer relocating to their nearby house.  “I thought the house was safer than mine but eventually it didn’t work out because both house tops just leave, the door go…in the middle of the night, three doors left the house just like that,” she recalled.

Yearwood continued, “The stove, the fridge everything went out behind the door; that was a wind, it just pull everything out, start mashing up all the bulbs and everything in the house”. After the roof was blown off, the only safe place was the bathroom so Yearwood along with her two daughters, ages 32 and 27 years, and 19-year-old son as well as two grandchildren, kept safe huddled in the tub with the shower curtains pulled around them.

“We were getting wet but we had to stay there; the house did not have no top just a piece of wood was sheltering us in the bathroom; we stayed there until morning. You could not come out in the night…no current, the poles were down, the wires—you can’t run around in Barbuda in the night.”

When she checked on her house everything inside was scattered and rain-soaked. A neighbour’s vehicle was carried three blocks to her property. Gesticulating a twisting motion she said the wind took the small van and “wrap it up like that…just fold it up and leave it right there”.

Containers loaded with goods were “flying” about, boats in the lagoon were dropped in the village. Yearwood said 99 per cent of the vehicles in Barbuda were “mash up”.

“There had to have been a miracle in Barbuda that night because the storm started and it never stopped until 5 o’clock the next morning…only one little one died.”  She was thankful to God for life. Yearwood visited her mother and sister in Codrington and found they were okay.  She was eager to return home to clean her house and “get everything back in order”.

Yearwood knows it will take a long time for the island to recover but said,  “We can’t stay here and get the country clean up…we have to go back or else the country is going to stay stagnant. The government is not going to do it for us. We might get volunteer help from other parts of the world but we have got to go and help ourselves…Barbuda will rise again; it will take some time but we’ll get there”.