By Karen Chávez
11 November 2017

CODRINGTON, Barbuda (The Citizen-Times) – Carl Francis is a ghost of a man, shuffling slowly, sadly down the roads of a ghost town.

Francis, a father of seven, barely lived through the historic rains and winds of Hurricane Irma, which two months ago landed like a bomb on Barbuda, demolishing the tiny, remote spot in the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands.

But out of the island’s 1,800 residents, there was only one fatality.

It was Francis’ 2-year-old son, Carl, lovingly known as “Bigs Jr.”

“I have suffered the greatest loss,” Francis said in a low voice, staring through bloodshot eyes last week. “On the sixth of September I lost my heartstring, my Carl. I don’t sleep up until this day. It’s not easy to take. I’ve seen things I’ve never seen before."

He held children in each hand during the storm, but Bigs was with his godmother. A projectile hit her in the head. She needed 36 stitches and suffered two broken ribs as well.

The baby was torn from her arms.

In front of the damaged Barbuda Pentecostal Church on the island’s main road, Francis emptied his soul to a group of journalists traveling with Samaritan’s Purse, the Boone-based disaster relief group led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham. […]

Irma was the strongest recorded hurricane ever to hit the Atlantic, with sustained winds of 185 mph. The monstrous storm hit Barbuda with an initial $600 million worth of damage – a number expected to rise. It destroyed 95 percent of Barbuda’s infrastructure, including 1,086 homes. Forty-four percent of the island’s structures must be demolished and rebuilt. […]

The islands have been through countless storms, the worst being Category 4 Hurricane Luis in 1995.

Beating out Luis was Irma, a Category 5.

“There has never been a hurricane like this in the Caribbean. The damage from Luis does not even compare to what we have experienced here,” said Knacyntar Nedd, chairlady of the Barbuda Council.

While the island’s streets have been cleared of dangerous power lines and rotting animal carcasses, it is still uninhabitable, Nedd said. […]

Aerial view of blue tarps stretched across buildings in Barbuda, after Hurricane Irma. This view shows the Samaritan's Purse tarps and Hydrovolt reverse osmosis water access point. Photo: Kim E Rowland / The Citizen-Times

After Irma, for the first time in more than 300 years, there was not a human soul living on Barbuda.

“Barbuda was like an apocalyptic land, buildings reduced to toothpicks, everything was brown. When I landed, my mind went back to the tsunami in Thailand in 2004, when hundreds of thousands of people were displaced,” said Melissa Strickland, communications director with Samaritan’s Purse, who flew in with the aid organization shortly after Irma attacked.

“The scale in Barbuda is smaller but the visual of devastation was the same. There were dead dogs and animals on the roads, wild pigs walking through people’s homes and treasured possessions. It was horrible, completely unbelievable.” […]

The mandatory evacuation order was lifted only last week, allowing residents to return to start to clean up and repair their homes. But hardly anyone has come back. […]

Even though most homes and businesses on Barbuda are built of concrete, the roofs are wood, and all have been snapped off like twigs. Most are now covered in blue tarps. Many structures couldn’t withstand the winds. One school was ripped off its foundation.

The island’s economy was dependent on fishing, farming, and tourism. The entire infrastructure, from the fisheries, to livestock, to family farms, roads, power and water, has been knocked out. The island’s four hotels were destroyed. [more]

Barbuda remains decimated, 2 months after Hurricane Irma

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