Wrecked Island Races to Evacuate Children Before Next StormBy
Helicopters, tour boats working to relocate 1,600 residents
Irma wreaked ‘Armageddon,’ leaving few places to shelter
Neil Dickinson and his two helicopters are in a race against time, shuttling children, the elderly and the sick off Barbuda before it’s hit by a second major hurricane in three days.
His company, Caribbean Helicopters, is working to evacuate the small island of 1,600 people before Hurricane Jose arrives on Saturday. The island was already devastated by a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, which destroyed or damaged 95 percent of homes and killed one child. An unknown number of people remained on the island as of Friday afternoon -many fewer than 1,000, Dickinson estimates- with hardly any shelter to protect them from Jose’s 125-mile-per-hour winds.
“Nobody in Barbuda was spared, from the most basic houses to the full-blown resorts. It was Armageddon,” Dickson said, speaking by phone from Antigua while his chopper was being loaded up with food and water for another run. “We are going to put in as many flights as we can to get people out, right up until the storm.”
Irma ripped homes from their foundations, flooded streets, toppled cellular towers and destroyed government buildings and hotels on Wednesday. The hurricane has left at least 11 dead across the Caribbean and is now on a collision with Florida this weekend. The category 5 storm’s winds picked up two shipping containers and slammed them down onto the airport’s lone runway, damaging it, said Barbuda Affairs Minister Arthur Nibbs, who was on the island when Irma hit.
“There is nothing like this, ever. I would call it a monster," Nibbs said in a telephone interview from Antigua Friday. “Anything that wasn’t concrete was just ripped away like it was nothing. Just pure destruction.”
Tour boats and ferries are joining in the evacuation effort in Barbuda, but as conditions at sea worsen that might not be possible for much longer, leaving Dickinson and his two Bell helicopters as the island’s only lifeline. The choppers can carry a maximum of six passengers on each trip to Antigua, forty miles south.
International agencies and foreign governments have pledged assistance and sent aid to Barbuda. Dickinson said he fears that supplies won’t reach the island in time.
Just as Irma moved away from Antigua and Barbuda, a twin-island former British colony of 100,000, Hurricane Jose was emerging in the Atlantic as a new threat. The category 3 storm is also threatening Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, islands which Irma also partially destroyed.
On Wednesday, Dickinson’s pilots flew Prime Minister Gaston Browne to the island to inspect the damage, and returned with the lifeless body of Irma’s two-year-old victim. They’re now shuttling in food, water and emergency supplies several times a day, and returning full of people left homeless.
Before Irma hit, Dickinson was preparing to launch a regular air service between Antigua and Barbuda. After two years of planning and awaiting approvals, the first flight was set to take off on Sept. 11, before his infrastructure was smashed by the storm.
“People in Barbuda are in a state of shock, there’s this stoic mood on the island, almost a calm sense of acceptance of what has happened. And now this?” said Harold Lovell, a senator and former finance minister.