We interrupt our regular schedule…
We never planned to be writing a blog post about a favorite destination that spoke of anything worse than sunburn. This time of year, we’re usually writing about trips to see fall colors, as was our plan this week. As a friend of ours likes to say, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.”
Along came Hurricane Harvey, and we watched in horror as a city was submerged. Just as those floodwaters were receding, the “hIRMAcane” began threatening our friends and family in Florida. We spent another weekend glued to CNN and making donations to help our fellow Americans. Though the destruction from these monster storms was awful, we know these cities will rebuild. We know that the American spirit and government will be there to help. (Privately, we are so thankful that our friends, family, and fellow bloggers in Houston and Florida have weathered the storms with only minor damage.)
And then we started seeing reports coming from the Caribbean.
If your image of the paradise playgrounds that dot the Caribbean Sea is of palm-lined beaches and lush resorts, those islands would be unrecognizable today. Hurricane Irma laid siege to an area of islands southeast of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The result was near complete devastation.
- Siege (noun)
- (Military) The offensive operations carried out to capture a fortified place by surrounding it, severing its communications and supply lines, and deploying weapons against it.
Antigua & Barbuda
When a tornado hits, one home may be completely destroyed while its neighbor is nearly untouched. Irma struck the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in much the same way. Antigua was the lucky neighbor, emerging with relatively little damage. Barbuda, just 28 miles north, took a direct hit as the first landfall in a Category 5 Hurricane. The island was nearly destroyed. Prime Minister Gaston Browne told CNN that 95% of the island’s buildings were damaged or destroyed, the hospital is heavily damaged, and the airport is closed.
U.S. Virgin Islands
St. John and St. Thomas suffered severe damage, and will take months to rebuild. Many hotels have announced closures for six months to a year, while damage in some areas is still being assessed. As of this past week, airlines were still evacuating tourists (and some residents) with no word on when regular service might resume.
British Virgin Islands
The news from Tortola was doubly bad: First the island fell victim to Hurricane Irma, and then to widespread looting. Residents compared their island to a Third World country with no electricity or running water. Damage on the many islands that make up the British Overseas Dependency was widespread, though some islands escaped with comparatively little damage.
St. Martin / Sint Maarten
While some tourists have a French or Dutch preference, Mother Nature didn’t seem to care. Both sides of the island suffered heavy damage. In French Saint Martin, 90% of the island’s structures were destroyed. Much like Tortola, the Dutch side has suffered hurricane damage followed by looting. Both French President Emanuel Macron and Dutch King Willem-Alexander have both visited the island. The King remarked, “I’ve seen a lot of war zones in my life, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Relief and Rebuilding
The stories and images coming from the Caribbean are devastating, and these are just a few. Supplies are desperately needed, with many challenges in getting them there. While governments are promising aid, residents say it’s slow in reaching them. Relief agencies and charities are, in many areas, still assessing needs and logistics, but are accepting donations.
Once relief efforts are in place, the islands face months of cleanup and reconstruction. This isn’t Florida or Texas; machinery and materials won’t roll in on a truck from the next state over. They will get there eventually, but that’s just the beginning.
The people of these islands haven’t just lost buildings, they’ve lost livelihoods. These are tourism-based economies, and tourism won’t be coming back for months, perhaps years. During those days, there will be real needs for food, medicine, and other essentials of life. Things that cost money, which comes from a livelihood, which has been completely wiped out.
If the images of the destruction weren’t bad enough, that thought brought us to tears. It is likely to be quite some time that islanders will be reliant on aid from strangers, via relief agencies and charities. That will be their “new normal” until tourism returns.
A Moral Obligation
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Caribbean tourism industry. We’ve played on their beaches, shopped in their stores, drank their rums and beers. We took full advantage of the relaxing paradise just a short flight or cruise away. We helped sustain that tourism economy.
Those who were dependent on us in the good times, are even more dependent on our help now. We feel it’s only right that we share our blessings, and help sustain those who have lost so much in the Caribbean. We hope you feel the same. If you’re in a position to contribute, here are some of the agencies assisting in the Caribbean (with their Charity Navigator ratings):
Where to Donate for Caribbean Hurricane Help
- All Hands – 4 stars
- All Hands is focusing relief efforts on the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a team en route to assess needs.
- Global Giving – 4 stars
- Global Giving is a charity crowdfunding site attempting to raise $2-million to be sued exclusively for local relief and recovery efforts in the US and Caribbean.
- Convoy of Hope – 4 stars
- Convoy of Hope focuses on hunger and basic needs, and is currently helping those in need in the aftermath of wildfires in Montana, flooding in Houston, and throughout Florida. They have “boots on the ground” in the Caribbean, and are organizing local contribution events across the USA.
- Oxfam – 3/4 stars
- This nonprofit is focusing efforts on the Caribbean islands devastated by Irma.
For more on donating for hurricane relief, in the U.S. and Caribbean, Business Insider has an excellent article detailing both domestic and international charities: The best charities to give to in the wake of Hurricane Irma
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You can see more of the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean with a series of Before-and-After images from NPR.
If you have a favorite charity you think should be included, please let us know in the comments below.