When I heard Irma was heading straight toward a group of islands we visited once, my interest was piqued. Years ago, our family hosted an Acadia University student from the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
She has been employed with the island government. One winter, we flew to Puerto Rico and hopped over to the BVI capital of Tortola. It was great fun to see Akilah on her home turf.
I remember the BVI as a green and rocky island with beautiful beaches and lots of cruise ships.
On Sept. 5 I sent a message to Akilah wishing her luck riding the storm out. She wrote right back and said, “Will keep safe! Keep us in prayer.” Then, for four days of rain and wind, we heard nothing.
On Sept. 9, she let us know she was safe. “Alive and OK. Will update another time.” I had to be satisfied with that cryptic note as I looked at the photos of devastation on her island.
Richard Branson of Virgin survived on his private island bunkered down in a concrete wine cellar. Now he is trying to help the territory that is in dire need of help.
"I must repeat the unique nature of the challenge in the BVI, which suffered under the full effect of the strongest Category '7' hurricane ever to hit the Atlantic," Branson said.
News reports spoke of how the green islands were now brown. The browning was likely caused when the vegetation was ripped away in the wind or salt water killed what leaves were left. I recalled a field of corn in Scott’s Bay that was flecked with brown after hurricane Arthur blew through.
According to a British newspaper, Irma cut electricity throughout the islands. The 35,000 residents were largely isolated from each other and the rest of the world.
On Sept. 12, Akilah wrote again. “Now I have a better connection and have had some time to email. We found out during the storm that the hurricane was going to hit us directly. So not much we could do at that point. My mom's house roof blew off while we were there, which caused windows and furniture and most possessions to be either destroyed or blown away. We sought safety in our bathroom. It was the worst experience of my life. I have some good days and bad days where all I want to do is curl up and cry. The memories are on repeat on those days.”
They spent two days with neighbours, who had a safe room with no windows. The roads were impassable.
“We were eventually able to clear our driveway and make it to town. We walked great distances to find family and to check on my apartment.
“My apartment is also destroyed. Seems like it blew out my front windows and front door, which are glass, then blew out the wooden front entrance door. So everything in my kitchen was in my bedroom and things from my bedroom in the living room. It was really crazy and a mess.”
Days were spent trying to salvage personal items. “We have recovered quite a few things thankfully, but still much is gone. This is sadly the story many others here have. The destruction is extensive and recovery will be long.
“My aunt's home is fine, so we are staying by her for now. I have to figure out my next steps…what is next. But taking it a day at a time.”
Britain has pledged £25m in aid to Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands where it is said that as many as 90 per cent of the homes, businesses and the yachts that once filled the harbours have been destroyed.
While Irma might have made a big splash when she got to Florida, the real devastation happened on those little islands. About all I can do is pray for Akilah and her fellow islanders – and send a cheque.