International

Barbuda devastated after hit by Hurricane Irma

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CODRINGTON, Antigua and Barbuda: Homes, shops and government buildings were destroyed when Hurricane Irma slammed the Caribbean island of Barbuda this week, while a huge stretch of its once glorious 11-mile west coast beach has been wiped out.

Destruction was so widespread that authorities have ordered the entire population of 1,800 to evacuate as Hurricane Jose approached the island over the weekend.

By mid-day Saturday Jose, a Category Four hurricane, was tracking towards the north-west and no longer expected to hit Barbuda, but it remained under a Tropical Storm warning.

Authorities on Barbuda — one of the two islands that make up the nation of Antigua and Barbuda — have only begun to measure the damage caused when Irma struck the island as a powerful Category Five hurricane overnight Tuesday to Wednesday.

“Terrifying,” “horrific” and the “worst damage seen in a lifetime” were some of the descriptions from residents as they emerged from their shelters after Irma’s passage.

A child died when Irma, the strongest storm ever recorded to form in the Atlantic, struck the island.

Authorities said 30 percent of properties were demolished by the monster storm.

Surviving in a wardrobe

Barbudans swapped tales of hiding in wardrobes and showers as 157 mile (252 kilometer) per hour wind from Irma ripped off roofs, uprooted trees and knocked down walls.

Sira Berzas, 40, spent more than an hour huddled in a wardrobe with a friend after Irma tore the roof off the home they were hiding in.

“I have never been so scared in my life. Jackie and I were holding on to each other and basically saying our goodbyes,” said Berzas.

When the eye of the hurricane came, she said, “we ran outside in our underwear screaming for help. Luckily there was a police truck which took us to a safer building.”

In the rush to safety “we had to leave Jackie’s kitten behind,” said Berzas, who lost her Pink Sand Beach home, bar and restaurant to the disaster.

Thankfully Houdini lived up to his name. The kitten was later found crouched in a corner of the ruined house, trembling but alive.

Fleeing Hurricane Jose

Hundreds of Barbudans were transported on Friday to Antigua via a Venezuelan military plane for safety ahead of Hurricane Jose.

Many have family to visit on the sister island, but others had no idea where they would stay when they arrived.

“I don’t know where we are going when we get to Antigua –- or how we will get there,” said Beautymey John, who was on a dock waiting to board a boat to safety with her five children.

“I would rather stay here, it doesn’t feel right to leave. We have to try and start again,” she said.

Other Barbudans also said they were determined to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

Teacher Maurice George, 30, said the small bag he was taking to Antigua contained the bare essentials, but vowed to return as soon as the secondary school he works in reopens.

“It is heart-breaking to see our island looking like this,” he said.

“But where some people see devastation, I see an opportunity to rebuild,” he added.

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