UK Vir­gin Is­lands: ‘Knocked down, but not out’ by Irma

Tiny com­mu­ni­ties do what they can, on their own, to at­tempt to re­turn to nor­mal­ity

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

This lit­tle is­land draws boats from all around the globe to its pow­dery beaches and ebul­lient bar scene. Thou­sands of vis­i­tors come for the bois­ter­ous New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tion at Foxy’s — a wooden beach­side bar dec­o­rated with the li­cence plates and flags that vis­i­tors have left be­hind since the 1960s.

But af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma’s winds an­ni­hi­lated many of the homes here on Jost Van Dyke, one of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Foxy’s Ta­marind Bar and Restau­rant has be­come some­thing else en­tirely: the is­land’s de facto com­mand cen­tre and life­line.

With­out elec­tric­ity, run­ning wa­ter or tele­phone lines, the is­land’s 298 in­hab­i­tants have been ma­rooned, forced to sur­vive with what they sal­vaged: a satel­lite phone, a chain­saw, a week’s worth of food.

There is lit­tle to no gov­ern­ment pres­ence on the ground, but there is Foxy’s — which has some of the is­land’s only gen­er­a­tors. Be­neath the bar’s tat­tered roof, res­i­dents ra­tion sup­plies and cook meals twice a day for most of the is­land. “Any­one that comes, we feed,” said Tom Warner, the bar’s gen­eral man­ager.

A week af­ter Irma roared through the Caribbean, leav­ing more than two dozen dead, res­i­dents of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands vowed re­silience, tak­ing it upon them­selves to re­store some sense of nor­malcy.

Many res­i­dents said the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment in Lon­don, which over­sees the is­lands, has been slug­gish to at­tend to their dire sit­u­a­tion, so res­i­dents have had to band to­gether.

“We’re an iso­lated ter­ri­tory,” said Chris­tine Per­akis, a res­i­dent of Tor­tola, the largest of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands.

Jost Van Dyke, the small­est, was rav­aged al­most be­yond recog­ni­tion.

Green hill­sides have been re­placed with a brown­ish land­scape of bare tree trunks and de­bris. Syd­ney’s Peace and Love, a bar pop­u­lar for its lob­ster, was smashed to rub­ble by a ferry thrown on to the beach. The red floor boards were all that re­mained at Har­ris’ Place, a restau­rant.

The is­land’s two gas sta­tions, clinic and pri­mary school: all heav­ily dam­aged. Soggy Dol­lar Bar, where the drink known as the Painkiller is said to have orig­i­nated: mostly in rub­ble.

“It makes you sad to think ev­ery­thing can be wiped out in one sec­ond,” said Leeroy Isaac, a res­i­dent of Jost Van Dyke.

But im­me­di­ately af­ter the hur­ri­cane, the tight-knit com­mu­nity be­gan to re­build.

They re-es­tab­lished road ac­cess by Fri­day af­ter­noon us­ing the sal­vaged chain­saw to clear trees that had left parts of the is­land dis­con­nected. An in­for­mal cen­sus was con­ducted and lo­cals were ac­counted for.

One res­i­dent used a satel­lite phone to com­mu­ni­cate with boaters trans­port­ing sup­plies from nearby Puerto Rico. Food stocks sal­vaged from the is­land’s restau­rants were con­sol­i­dated at Foxy’s work­ing re­frig­er­a­tors.

There, res­i­dents have gath­ered to or­gan­ise cook­ing shifts, and set up a makeshift bul­letin with no­tices and rules of con­duct.

“The food is for every­one,” read one flyer. “Please con­serve. Don’t lit­ter. Chil­dren: If you are old enough to read this, then you are old enough to help.”

And in the last cou­ple of days, they said, Bri­tish he­li­copters have be­gun de­liv­er­ing food sup­plies. Gov­ern­ment aid has also been brought in by boat, and a team of tech­ni­cians was sent Thurs­day morn­ing to be­gin set­ting up telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, lo­cal of­fi­cials said.

“It’s a lit­tle frus­trat­ing, but all in all, we have life,” said Ad­di­son Phillip, be­hind the wheel of his black Jeep, left with­out a wind­shield by the hur­ri­cane. “You just have to go day by day.”

About 75,000 peo­ple, most of them Bri­tish cit­i­zens, live on the Caribbean ter­ri­to­ries of An­guilla, Turks and Caicos, and the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands — each of which suf­fered sub­stan­tial dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Irma.

Ac­cused by law­mak­ers of fail­ing to take ad­e­quate pre­cau­tions to pro­tect the ter­ri­to­ries more than 6,400km away, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment had be­gun ratch­et­ing up its aid in the ter­ri­to­ries by Thurs­day.

The gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was plan­ning to spend at least £57 mil­lion to fund dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts in the Caribbean. More than 1,000 Bri­tish troops have been de­ployed to the re­gion and, with help from the pri­vate sec­tor, thou­sands of shel­ter kits, so­lar lanterns, wa­ter bot­tles and food sup­plies, have been sent to the isles, the gov­ern­ment said on Wed­nes­day.

But here, as in the rest of the Caribbean re­gion, there is still a long re­cov­ery ahead for the is­lands known as a play­ground for the wealthy and the sail­ing cap­i­tal of the world. The tourism in­dus­try ac­counts for one in four jobs here, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment.

Ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture re­mains frac­tured on the ma­jor­ity of the is­lands. Famed re­sorts such as the Bit­ter End Yacht Club on Vir­gin Gorda were com­pletely razed. Res­i­dents said they had waited up to three hours in lines out­side su­per­mar­kets and food pantries on Tor­tola.

And the gov­ern­ment has im­posed a cur­few as it deals with se­cu­rity prob­lems.

Su­per­mar­kets and elec­tron­ics stores were looted in the two days af­ter the hur­ri­cane, Mark Van­ter­pool, min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and works, said in an in­ter­view. About 168 in­mates, most serv­ing mi­nor crim­i­nal sen­tences, es­caped af­ter the hur­ri­cane dam­aged the ter­ri­tory’s prison on Tor­tola, Van­ter­pool said.

“The prison was com­pro­mised,” Mr Van­ter­pool said. “Many of them have come back to the prison. Many of them left to check on their fam­i­lies and re­alised that they should not be out.”

Po­lice have cap­tured some of the pris­on­ers, he said, adding that the is­lands were “back to a fair sense of nor­malcy”. The gov­ern­ment ex­pects the com­mer­cial sec­tor to be up and run­ning by De­cem­ber, and most re­sorts to be open for busi­ness within a year, he said.

“We’ve been knocked down, but not knocked out,” Mr Van­ter­pool added.


A man walks through the de­struc­tion left by Hur­ri­cane Irma on Jost Van Dyke, Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, last week.

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