United States Army National Guard soldiers from New York help reconstruct houses in Calle Carme, Puerto Rico in July. (Photo: US ARMY NATIONAL GUARD)

As Virgin Islands residents took stock of hurricane devastation last year, they also heard reports trickling in from more than a dozen other countries and territories throughout the Caribbean that sustained damage from hurricanes Irma or Maria.

The two storms directly caused 231 deaths in all, the United Nations reported, though death rates spiked in the months after the storms to the point where Puerto Rico alone has tabulated a hurricane-related death toll in the thousands.

Some 169,000 people and 75,000 buildings were exposed to wind speeds higher than 252 kilometres per hour, according to ReliefWeb, a site operated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Three of the hardest-hit jurisdictions alone — Dominica, Barbuda and the VI — took some $5 billion worth of damage combined.

Brodrick Penn, chairman of the VI’s Disaster Recovery Coordination Committee, said that many of the affected governments have formed “independent structures”like this territory’s Recovery and Development Agency to help guide recovery.

However, Mr. Penn added, some other islands “received much more aid than we did from their parent countries.”

 

Former United States president Bill Clinton observes rebuilding efforts at a primary school in pichelin, Dominica in February. (Photo: GOVERNMENT OF DOMINICA)

In November, the United Kingdom announced a £70 million recovery package for the three British overseas territories affected: the VI, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The VI received £10 million of that, on top of £300 million worth of loan guarantees, which came with a raft of good-governance and financial-planning requirements such as the formation of the RDA.
Nearby, the Netherlands pledged 550 million euros to St. Maarten, and France pledged 50 million euros to St. Martin.

Meanwhile, the United States has so far pledged $1 bil- lion to the US Virgin Islands and $16 billion to Puerto Rico.

Additionally, about $2 billion in aid from countries worldwide was pledged to the region as a whole through the Caribbean Community-United Nations High-Level Pledging Conference in November at UN Headquarters in New York.

Economic impact

Recent tourism statistics reflect how the economic impact of the storms continues to be felt around the region, much of which depends heavily on tourism.

In the first half of 2018, 15.4 million tourists visited the Caribbean, which was 1.2 million fewer than the same period last year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. “We have seen dramatic decreases in arrivals to those hit by the storms, although the performances of these countries are steadily improving,” CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley said at the organisation’s annual conference in October.

About 13 months after the storms, recovery is in full swing across the region, and in some areas it is already complete.

However, as in the VI, many hotels remain closed, as do schools and other public buildings, and homes are still missing roofs. In many jurisdictions, electricity and water took several months to restore, and it still has not fully returned in some areas.

Other countries around the region also suffered minor damage to buildings and other infrastructure. However, Antigua, the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the Turks and Caicos are all effectively back to normalcy.

Barbuda

On Barbuda, the first island to get slammed by Irma, one person died, and all 1,800 people were evacuated to the sister island of Antigua, leaving the smaller island abandoned.

By spring, water and electricity had been restored to government buildings only, but the daily ferry from Antigua was running on its normal schedule. By July, the island had just barely opened for business.

“Recovery efforts have been steadily progressing,” Sean Matthew, of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, told the travel site The Points Guythatmonth.“We have seen the restoration of utilities, of hundreds of homes and a return of a third of [the residents] to the island.”

Although some natural attractions have opened, the hotels have not, although The Barbuda Belle is planning a November opening, and a few cruise ships are scheduled to return in the fall.

Most visitors are engaged in “voluntourism,” and many are visiting the tens of thousands of frigatebirds that have returned to the island’s sanctuary since being driven away in the storm.

Thanks to a pledge from the Chinese government, about 250 damaged roofs are being repaired, but an estimated $222 million is still needed, according to government reports.

Tourism and Investment Minister Charles Fernandez said in October that the new focus will be on nontraditional areas for visitors, and that new hotels, including a Waldorf Astoria, are in the pipeline.

St. Martin/St. Maarten

The French and Dutch territories of St. Martin and St. Maarten were slammed by both Irma and Maria.

Four people died in French St. Martin and one in Dutch St. Maarten. In May, Lonely Planet reported nearly full restoration of utilities.

Representatives from Caribbean countries attend the Caribbean Community-United Nations High-Level Pledging Conference in November at UN Headquarters in New York. (Photo: CARICOM)

St. Maarten’s busy Princess Juliana Airport, which took $76 million in damage when its roof was ripped off in the storm, is back to serving international destinations using temporary structures for arrival and depar- ture.

Meanwhile, waterproofing and hurricane-resistant roof panels are being constructed, ensuring the airport can sustain future hurricanes, according to a report this month from Alex Pierre, vice president of the French St. Martin tourism office.

Now, 21 out of 26 airlines that serviced the destination are back, and the cruise port welcomed more than 600,000 passengers from the opening of the cruise port in November through May 31. Until August, Philipsburg, St. Maarten stood in as a substitute for Tortola on Disney Cruises.

Meanwhile, as of July, around 80 percent of St. Maarten’s restaurants were open and around half of its hotel rooms were functional, along with 60 percent of the restaurants on St. Martin.

By October, about 30 hotels and 2,000 rooms were bookable across the entire island, Mr. Pierre said in October, with big plans for expansion.

“Inventory will be up to 54 percent by the end of the year,” he told Travel Weekly.

Anguilla

The British territory of Anguilla suffered damage to over 90 percent of its infrastructure in Irma. The UK pledged £60 million to the island’s recovery, which The Points Guy reported has been delivered “sluggishly.”

Despite the difficulties, elec- tricity and other utilities were restored by December, and the airport reopened within a week after the hurricane. Ferries are back to full service, with customs relocated to a nearby police station after the main Blowing Point ferry terminal was destroyed. The island’s most famous hotel, Belmond Cap Juluca, will reopen on Nov. 17 with improvements.

By September, most hotels were open, with 1,200 rooms available in all, as well as 90 per- cent of restaurants, Travel & Leisure reported. Organisations such as the Pure Anguilla Foundation and Anguilla Stronger, funded by Starwood Resorts, have raised almost $2 million for affected families.

Saint Barthélemy

The small French island, known for catering to wealthy tourists, suffered damage in Irma, but it is back in business, with airport, ferries and cruise port operational and all utilities restored, according to Travel Weekly.

In July, the magazine reported that 50 percent of the island’s 800 villas and 28 hotels were open for business, with most of the rest planning to open by the fall. Four large ho- tels have not specified opening dates, but said they plan to open in late 2018 or early 2019. Sixty out of 80 restaurants reported being open.

“The reconstruction work has basically been done, and the tourist season will be able to kick off in excellent conditions,” Philippe Gustin, the government official overseeing the recovery effort, told AFP in September.

US Virgin Islands

The VI’s neighbouring islands of St. Thomas and St. John got heavily hit by Irma, in which three people died.

Their sister island of St. Croix mostly escaped Irma only to receive a near-direct hit from Maria. In the storms’ aftermath, Governor Kenneth Mapp formed a Hurricane Recovery and Resilience Task Force to ex- amine the response and apply lessons and best practices from around the world to guide the rebuilding process, which he ex- pected the task force to oversee at least until 2021. “Recovery is five to seven years,” he warned in June.

In the September report issued by the task force, Mr. Mapp said he expected the territory to receive $8 billion in US aid over- all as a combination of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

FEMA began a home-repair programme in March, though FEMA-funded repairs, capped at $25,000, typically don’t cover a full roof, according to reports. Government unemployment statistics suggested that eight percent of jobs had been lost as well.

Full electricity wasn’t reported restored to the whole territory until January, with the help of 800 visiting linesmen.

A survey of homeowners in Coral Bay, St. John found that, at the beginning of the 2018 hurricane season, one-fifth of residents didn’t have a safe place to stay, and more than quarter reported no phone service in case of emergency.
Around 3,000 more homes throughout the entire territory were on track to be replaced, but not before the end of the current hurricane season, according to NPR. In August, FEMA reported that 400 of its employees had been stationed in the territory in advance of the season, stockpiling generators and a three-day supply of food and water.

Mr. Mapp said the territory is at work on modular buildings to replace schools, and a plan to rebuild and harden the territory’s power grid is already under way.

Debris clearance

In September, FEMA reported some successes. With the help of $99 million in assistance from FEMA, all “eligible debris” had been collected and work had started to ship it away from the territory. According to FEMA, this category of debris must have been created by the disaster; be within the disaster area; be located on improved property or right-of-way; and be the responsibility of the territorial government.

A multi-agency effort, led by the US Coast Guard, also removed 479 displaced vessels.

Tourism has begun to recover as well, though with some set- backs. In August,
Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty reported that flights across the USVI were at about 70-80 percent capacity, and construction of a new airport roof as part of a $230 million renovation project was on track to be completed by November.

Hotel rooms were operating at about 50 percent as of August, with St. Croix having recovered the fastest on the tourism front, although at least two of its major hotels will not reopen until next year.

According to the commis- sioner, of some 4,500 pre-storm accommodations, about 1,800 were available as of August, alongside 600 villas and 200 charter yachts.

On St. John, the island’s most well-known properties, Caneel
Bay and the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, both plan opening dates early next year. On the main island of St. Thomas, accommodations were at 45 percent as of September, with flagship properties Frenchman’s Reef & Morn- ing Star Marriott Beach Resort shuttered until 2020.

The new task force set out a roadmap to rebuild the territory, including retrofitting buildings and improving infrastructure.

As Ms. Nicholson-Doty told TPG, “Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested to re- pair and make the electrical system more resilient, including burying power lines throughout the territory.”

Puerto Rico

Even as Puerto Rican boaters were flocking toward the VI to provide aid, Hurricane Maria was barreling down on the US territory. Sixty-four deaths were initially confirmed, already the most of any country hit in 2017.
But in August, the government raised the official death toll to 2,975, based on the findings of researchers from George Washington University in a study commissioned by the PR government. That number, however, “is only an approximation, not a concrete list of names,” according to Governor Ricardo Rossello, and some estimates put the death toll more than twice that high.
Nearly a million people in PR lost electricity, and almost as many lost water.
By July, 98 percent of the island had water and 95.2 percent had electricity restored, but more than 10,000 customers in rural communities remained holdouts.

In June, 100 percent of hospitals were operational, many with the adequate generators they lacked before the storm. Fibre-optic cable has been installed in the mountains to prepare for communication systems going down, and 99 percent of cellular services had been restored by September, according to reports.

In August, Puerto Rico submitted a $139 billion reconstruction plan to the US Congress, and billions in grants have already been awarded to the territory.
In September, FEMA reported that 462,000 households had received $1.4 billion in FEMA Individual Assistance grants for home repairs, and more than 7,000 families were housed in just over 1,000 hotels in 41 states, though those grants will soon expire.

The Tu Hogar Renace ( Your Home Reborn) programme had repaired 68,654 homes, with other organisations reportedly repairing thousands more. Eight million cubic yards of debris was removed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and local jurisdic- tions.

In September, FEMA reported that nearly 100 different local and international volunteer organisations were in the territory helping clean and repair damaged homes.

PR preparations

Meanwhile, FEMA stated that it has focused on preparations, stockpiling water, food, generators, tarps and other supplies in 1,300 locations, and stationing 3,000 FEMA employees around the island.

As for tourism, 135 hotels, almost 90 percent of the total, are now operational, and the territory expects a record growth in inventory next year, with the construction of some 1,500 new rooms to add to the 15,000 pre-Maria total, according to Brad Dean, chief executive officer of Discover Puerto Rico.

Many other hotels are oper- ating at partial capacity while still making repairs. Other large ho- tels plan openings for the 2018- 2019 high season.
Mr. Dean also said 4,000 restaurants and shopping areas and 186 attractions have re- opened. And in the last fiscal year, 1.2 million cruise passengers have visited the territory. On the cruise front, 2018 was even better than last year, with 14 ships operating out of the port of PR.

The lush El Yunque National Forest is welcoming hikers, though parts of it remain impassable.

All airports have opened and airlines have returned to their original flight schedules, Travel Weekly reported in July. Ferry services operate several times a day to the hard-hit islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Dominica

On Dominica, a small independent country with a fledgling ecotourism industry, Hurricane Maria dealt a devastating blow, with its prime minister calling it “worse than a war zone.”

Fifteen people were reported dead in the storm, a toll that in April was officially raised to 65, including 34 missing and pre- sumed dead.
In May the government had approved a total of $70 million for rebuilding, the country re- ceived over $14 million in aid from the Chinese government, and Cuba sent construction teams and other experts to help with the rebuild.
According to a July report from Travel Weekly, 19 of its 23 natural attractions, including rivers, lakes, canyons and hot springs, were open, and the gov- ernment had invested $6 million into rehabilitating natural attractions.

The Dominica Electricity Company (Domlec) missed its initial April deadline to restore power, but in late August it was reported to be “winding down,” according to a statement from a Domlec representative.

Colin Piper, CEO of the Discover Dominica Authority, told Travel Weekly that before Maria, Dominica had 962 guest rooms; as of July 31, he reported 57 percent availability of hotel rooms and the resumption of all flights to the country, including night landing.

Cruise lines have been visiting the country since July for the first time since they pulled out in 2010, and had 10 scheduled calls over the summer.

In October, Mr. Piper said 470 hotel rooms are to be phased in by 2020. In July, Travel Weekly reported that ferry services are fully opera- tional and most of the roads on the island were drivable.

Many of the tours now available on the island focus on recovery efforts, such as reef surveying and clearing boat passages.


ADVERTISEMENT

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT