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Caribbean leaders plan relief efforts for Irma

AFTERMATH: Walking through the devastation of Irma, and below, BVI Premier Orlando Smith

HEADS of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) met in a special emergency session earlier this week to discuss the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Jose on the region and progress on the co-ordinated response to provide relief for those affected.

The meeting, presided over by CARICOM Chairman, Dr the Rt Honourable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, received a full briefing on the situation from representatives of the affected countries, the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA), the Community’s lead agency for disaster response, CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque and regional institutions.

RESPONSE

Premier of the British Virgin Islands, (BVI), the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Haiti’s Foreign Minister and a representative of the Turks and Caicos Government provided the latest information on their countries. Prime Minister of Dominica, and the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, also alerted the meeting to their own situation.

The Executive Director of CDEMA Mr Ronald Jackson addressed the situation in Antigua and Barbuda and Anguilla as well as giving an update on the Community’s co-ordinated response to those affected. Irma wrought extensive damage after it hit the isolated islands of St Barts, St Martin, Anguilla and the British and the Virgin Islands group, leaving 22 people dead.

The response included water, food items, materials to aid with temporary shelter, such as plywood and tarpaulins and especially cash to purchase items to help with the cost of immediate recovery efforts.

An evacuation of Barbuda was well advanced due to the potential impact of Hurricane Jose. Earlier this week, CDEMA activated the Regional Response Mechanism (RRM) which coordinates relief action and includes regional institutions, international agencies, and representatives from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

CDEMA’s advance team has been waiting in Antigua to go in to the affected countries in that area as soon as conditions permit, given the proximity of Hurricane Jose and the severe damage to ports of entry. The Hurricane caused massive damage to property and infrastructure which has hindered access to the islands, affecting relief efforts.

Limited access has been established to Anguilla and BVI with the aid of the United Kingdom. A team is also in Jamaica awaiting to proceed to the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and Haiti.

They expressed their sympathy to those bereaved by Hurricane Irma. So far four deaths have been confirmed in the BVI, one in Barbuda, one in Anguilla and one in Haiti due to Hurricane Irma which also caused fatalities on the islands of Saint Maarten and St Barthelemy. Heads of government stressed that these disasters emphasised the economic vulnerability of the region given the cost of recovery and the ensuing impact on economic activity of the affected countries.

They mandated the CARICOM Secretariat and the Sec- retariat of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to continue working with CDEMA to co-ordinate recovery efforts. In a statement Tim Foy, Governor of one of the worst affected territories, Anguilla, said: “The people of Anguilla have responded, as I knew they would. Communities have pulled closer together.

RESPECTFUL

“Most importantly, unlike what we may have heard from other places in the region, Anguilla remains calm and Anguillians as ever, remain respectful of the rule of law. This is the worst hurricane to have hit this island in living memory and we are now bracing ourselves for Jose.”

British Virgin Islands Premier Orlando Smith said: “Like all of us, I am heartbroken by the loss of homes and businesses but above all the loss of life the hurricane has brought. “While the immediate focus is on these humanitarian needs we will also turn attention to our economy.

“We have already started working with the private sector to ensure the business and financial services sector is able to function in good time. Many overseas offices have come together to support the BVI and work out the best way of continuing to provide vital business services remotely until the BVI is in a position to bring them substantively back on the islands."

“We are grateful for the contribution they are making and the efforts to help this part of the BVI economy get back on its feet. Having said this, rebuilding an entire territory is no small undertaking.”

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