In the wake of Hurricane Irma, families flee the ravaged island of Barbuda ahead of the next storm

With 90 percent of housing destroyed, up to two thirds of residents flee for Antigua

By UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Area
A destroyed school classroom, Barbuda
UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Area/2017/Thomas
08 September 2017

Sasha Lewis is among residents of Barbuda who are evacuating this island devastated by ferocious Hurricane Irma to find shelter from a storm that follows in its path.

BARBUDA, 8 September 2017 – It’s in a bath of sunlight that Sasha Lewis boards the Excellee, the vessel that will bring her from her home, Barbuda, to nearby Antigua.

The Excellee is a pleasure craft that normally ferries tourists to this popular vacation spot to walk its legendary pink sands. But with Barbuda lying ravaged, these are not normal voyages. For the past two days, the boat has been life-saving transport for families fleeing this 62 sq. mile island that bore the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s ferocious winds as the storm tore through the eastern Caribbean.

By week’s end, up to two thirds of the 1,500 residents of Barbuda are expected to have taken the one-hour voyage on which Sasha is embarking, leaving the devastation behind them in favour of the relative safety of Antigua. There they can start the process of returning their lives to some sort of normalcy.

On the heels of one catastrophic storm, another

Ninety per cent of the housing stock in Barbuda has been damaged or destroyed. The government has declared a state of emergency and is urging residents to evacuate voluntarily.

The urgency to find shelter is great. Hurricane Jose, which is unnervingly following almost the same path as Irma, has Barbuda and other northern islands in the Caribbean chain in its sights. The government has issued a hurricane watch as this latest system in a busy Atlantic hurricane season approaches with a top wind clocked at 130 miles per hour. At its strongest, Irma hit 185.

But getting out has not been easy; after sustaining damages, the lone airport remains closed. A few vessels like the Excellee have answered the call, and the port has been busy as residents, with children, the sick and the elderly first, try to leave.

A woman stands in front of a ferry terminal, Barbuda
UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Area
Sasha Lewis describes her ordeal as she waits to board a boat that will bring her from devastated Barbuda to the relative safety of Antigua.
What families leave behind

Sasha, who is seven months pregnant with her first child, and the others cannot contemplate the prospect of facing Jose in Barbuda. The damage from Irma is too great.

“My family is in Antigua. It’s just my one here,” she says as she waits her turn to board the Excellee. “I’m leaving nothing behind. No house, nothing … everything that I ever owned in my life, everything is gone. I have nothing, not even clothes. It’s the grace of God and the prayers of my mother and my brother and my sister that I’m here, so I thank God for life.”

What Sasha witnessed was unbearable. Her friend Tevelle Jeremiah lost her two-year-old son Charles Francis, Jr.; the winds had ripped apart Tevelle’s house, two doors down from Sasha’s.

“I don’t know what my friend is going through, but I feel for her … that baby was like my own child and I will miss him,” she says. Charles, Jr. was the lone fatality during the storm.

Reaching children wherever they are

Barbuda is among countries in which UNICEF is working with the regional disaster management agency, governments and other international partners to ensure that the population receive the assistance they need.

“Our focus is in reaching children wherever they are with our first call being those most in need,” says UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area Khin Sandi-Lwin.

UNICEF is providing tents, water purification tablets, and hygiene kits along with such other supplies as tarpaulins, blankets and potable water containers for displaced families and communities in Barbuda, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos islands.

>> Support children affected by Hurricane Irma