The Story Within The Story…Irma: A few deadly hours – By Leonard Gildarie

The Story Within The Story…Irma: A few deadly hours

This past week, one of the world’s strongest hurricanes, Irma, started up and on its path to

Leonard Gildarie

Florida, USA, battered parts of the Caribbean, leaving a trail of destruction that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars of rebuilding, monies that many of the small states don’t have. Many Guyanese live in the affected areas.

At least 13 persons are dead in the Leeward Islands zone alone, it was reported. Along its way, the US and British Virgin Islands have taken damage. So did Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda and Puerto Rico.

In Florida, all commercial flights from Miami Airport for yesterday and today were cancelled ahead of Irma’s landfall. Overhead images showed traffic backups after authorities ordered mandatory evacuations.    

Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, on Friday declared a state of emergency to help that US state get ahead of any damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

As if Irma was not enough, another massive storm, Jose, was expected to hit the Caribbean yesterday, with Antigua and Barbuda again to be lashed.

Many in the office sat and watched stunned as the images of the damage aired and photos started emerging on the internet.

Guyanese has been migrating all across the world, but I bet per capita, Antigua and Dutch St. Maarten would probably have the highest number of Guyanese.

I spoke to Robert ‘Bobby’ Reis, former Consul of Guyana to St. Maarten on Friday night. Based in Antigua, Reis only managed to be online again Friday. He is unable to make any contact with St. Maarten.

There are over 10,000 Guyanese in Antigua, it is estimated. Its sister island, Barbuda, had about 1,800 residents. The homes have been flattened and according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, it is the worst case scenario…it is unlikely Barbuda will have anyone living there for a while.

I am very attached to St. Maarten. My eldest son lives there. So does my dad. I have dear friends there. I lived there for six years helping to establish and launch the St. Maarten/Guyanese Foundation for the 5,000-plus Guyanese we had living there in the early 2000s.

St. Maarten/St. Martin is a 37-square mile island next door to St. Kitts and Nevis ruled by the Dutch and French respectively. That is right…it is divided.

Known for its tourism and little else, over the years, starting in the early 90’s, Guyanese have been trekking to that island for high-paying jobs- the US dollar is widely used.

In 1995, almost to the date, Hurricane Luis struck the Caribbean. St. Maarten was devastated by winds which went up to 140 miles per hour. Never before had the island experienced anything like this.

St. Maarten, which was unprepared, was caught unaware. Its infrastructure were never built to withstand those winds. Hundreds died in the yachts that were moored in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Many of the properties had little or no insurance. The idyllic island life was forever changed.

The rebuilding was a boon for foreign workers after St. Maarten, unable to find labour, opened its doors. Many Guyanese made their way to that Dutch part. The money was good. In the early 2000s, Guyanese were working for at least US$100 per day. Rent and utilities were expensive and the locals were smiling all the way to the bank.

There were lots of Guyanese all over, even a few Guyanese-owned bars.
One of the biggest insurance companies of the region, Nagico, is controlled by Guyanese-born Imran McSood, whose love for cricket is well-known. The current Prime Minister, William Marlin, is said to have roots in Guyana.

After Luis, St. Maarten pushed and pushed and slowly rebuilt its world famous airport, Princess Juliana International Airport, spending up to US$100M. PJIA is known for low-flying airplanes which have to land on the runway located next to the beach. It is one of the most photographed spot in the world.

Many Guyanese have invested in properties there which is by no means cheap.
St. Maarten spent a similar sum, US$100M, to build a world-class harbor, where some of the biggest cruise ships called. Things were looking up despite finances being tight.

Now, 22 years later, almost to the week, the island has been decimated. The airport has been badly damaged with no flights being allowed.

Communications have been cut for 95-plus percent of the residents. On the French-side, the photos showed a scene out of a movie. It seaside town was underwater, and roads and beaches were one and the same. Many of the old buildings which have been protected by the French government, have been extensively damaged.

I could not make contact with any of my friends and family in St. Maarten. It appeared the few persons who had access to internet only did so for a while.

No power, no water, no communication.

I cannot begin to imagine the thoughts of families who huddled in a room of their home and watching their roof ripped off.

To compound matters, videos surfaced on Friday showing looting, of persons fetching away flat-screen TVs. It was a little funny but showed an ugly side of St. Maarten.

There were reports of persons invading hotels and robbing guests. The police and army were ordered to maintain a curfew.

I was inundated with calls on Thursday and Friday from relatives who became frantic after the loss of communication with their loved ones.

I can’t even begin to think of the emotions of the people across the region who lost because of Irma and other natural disasters. It is a difficult to sit and watch all that you work for disappear in the winds, in a few hours. What makes it even harder is that you were told to expect it.

How many persons in St. Maarten took it seriously? I did indeed receive calls asking us to pray for them. I have not heard back from those folks.

St. Maarten has not seen the worst of it yet. The rebuilding will take time. It will recover. But the worst is yet to come. Like the other islands and territories, Governments will have to grapple with moving food and water and emergency supplies to the vulnerable. It will test their mettle.

Insurance companies would be facing some tough times. I saw the problems that Irma left and wondered what would have happened to Guyana.

I thank God for this country. We have a blessed place despite our differences.
We have to remain focused. Let us pay attention to our infrastructure like drainage and irrigation and sea defense.

As a people, let us endeavor to not dump our garbage in our drains.
We should re-look at how strong our conservancies- which hold billions and billions of gallons of water- are, and continuously monitor these structures.

I have always said it and will say it again. Some decisions we will have to make as a government will not be popular, but in the long term, will be the correct one.

There are opportunities in Guyana for our insurance companies, for flooding and natural disasters.
As the region and elsewhere prepare for another battering from Jose, let us stand by our brothers and sisters in those islands who need all the prayers in the world.

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  • guyaneseonline  On September 10, 2017 at 12:59 am

    Irma kills Guyanese in British Virgin Islands
    Posted by: Denis Chabrol – Demerara Waves- September 9, 2017

    Hurricane Irma has killed a Guyanese businessman in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), relatives said.
    He is 55-year old Derek Ragnath, formerly of Mahaica Public Road near the police station.
    A close relative said she was informed that the roof of Ragnath’s shop in Tortola caved in and killed him during the passage of the monster storm, Hurricane Irma.
    Ragnath’s family members were not with him when disaster struck.
    He was one of four persons in the British Virgin Islands who lost their lives to the rampaging hurricane.
    Regarded as one of the most powerful and destructive storms to have struck the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma has also slammed several other Caribbean islands where Guyanese live. They include Anguilla, St. Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Kitts and Nevis.
    Dutch and French St. Martin have been virtually cut off from the rest of the world because telecommunication contact is extremely limited.
    Guyana’s Honorary Consul in French Guiana, Ms. Travis Tracey-Lecant, has advised that all Guyanese who need information, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, on relatives who reside in French St. Martin should contact her as follows: consul.guyana.cayenne@gmail. com with their full names, dates of birth, gender and address.

    • Youman  On September 10, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Very sad to hear about Guyanese leaving florida because of hurricane . They should stop showing off on social media with their big mansions and 2 acre swimming pool
      Pathetic really! !!!

  • guyaneseonline  On September 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Govt explores evacuating hurricane-ravaged Guyanese but vital info needed – Foreign Minister
    Posted by: Denis Chabrol Demerara Waves – September 10, 2017

    The Guyana government is exploring the possibility of evacuating Guyanese who have been badly affected by Hurricane Irma’s devastation of St.Maarten/St.Martin, following an emergency Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders teleconference meeting, Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge said Sunday.
    “We are willing to do whatever we can even for those wanting to come back,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
    With the United States, The Netherlands and Canada having already landed military aircraft to evacuate their citizens who have been stranded on the Franco-Dutch island, Greenidge was asked whether it was possible for Caricom and those Developed Nations to coordinate and facilitate the airlift of Caribbean nationals to their homelands.
    “Caricom is looking at such coordination. This is one of the things discussed yesterday (Saturday) but what I am saying is that whilst in principle the need was recognised the specifics by way of needs could not be determined yesterday and as soon as we have those details we will ask whoever can help or if we can help,” said Greenidge. He remarked that the Caribbean’s aviation and maritime capacity “is very narrow; we are not the place where we might have been twenty or thirty years ago.”
    Most of the houses on the island have been either badly damaged or destroyed, and looting of water, food and other items have worsened an already severe shortage of basic necessities. Additional security personnel from The Netherlands and France been deployed to the island to enforce a strict curfew and curb looting.
    Ahead of government possibly making known its position on Monday, he noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been unable to contact Guyana’s Honorary Consul to St. Maarten, Cleavland Beresford. Greenidge said nothing has been formulated because government needs to make contact to provide the number of persons and their names.
    Except for military aircraft and ships with emergency supplies, the island has been virtually isolated from the rest of the world. Only one radio station is on air and telephone and Internet contact are extremely limited.
    The Guyanese Foreign Minister said Caricom leaders, including those from observer territories, attempted to assess the needs of the countries and territories that have been battered by Hurricane Irma. Those needs, he said, that were examined by regional leaders included “a recognition that some countries had citizens who wanted to return.”
    Meanwhile, Guyana’s Honorary Consul to Antigua and Barbuda, Bobby Reis said most of the residents of Barbuda have been evacuated to Barbuda where refuge has been provided by relatives, friends and even strangers. He said that twin-island nation’s authorities did not seek to ascertain the nationality of the evacuees.
    “The Guyanese that have come across here (to Antigua), a lot of them have families here and a lot of them have been allocated. Those who did not have families, people took them or the Antiguan government made spaces for them,” he said. Reis cautioned against sending aid for Guyanese alone because persons of all nationalities have been affected.
    Across in the British Virgin Islands, one Guyanese is among five persons who were killed by Hurricane Irma

  • marc mattews  On September 10, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    What a disaster for all the community inclusive of guyanese heritage whom experienced that raging power whirling dispassionate energy creating havoc with deliberate intensity. As should welcome support from those spared unaffected communities.

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