Scots aid worker reveals crippling damage of Hurricane Irma

It was one of the most catastrophic storms in history and Scottish charity worker Kenny Hamilton witnessed first-hand the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

The Red Cross worker has been deployed in the relief effort on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, one of the areas worst hit by the disaster.

Kenny, 53, has carried out reconstruction after five hurricanes, across the world, including the Federated States of Micronesia, as well as the Philippines and India.

Kenny Hamilton says ‘Irma has had more impact than the other hurricane areas I have seen’.(Image: Red Cross)

But Anguilla has seen its major industry of tourism utterly decimated and recovery is not going to be as quick as in more diverse economies.

Kenny said: “In some ways Irma has had more impact than the other hurricane areas I have seen. Here, we are looking at the prospect of a whole tourist season disappearing and poverty will become a big issue.

“There is a perception that Anguilla is a millionaire’s playground but not for the vast majority of the population who are on low incomes working in the service industries.

“Those are the people we are supporting and they really need help.”

On September 6, Hurricane Irma slammed into Anguilla.

It was the latest of 33 Category 5 megastorms ever recorded in the Atlantic and its 185mph winds brought devastation.

Kenny said: “The hurricane really tore through the island, in a way which hadn’t been experienced before.

“I have spoken to a lot of the older people and they are used to hurricanes but nothing of this magnitude.”

The island is a favourite hideaway for A-listers looking for paparazzi-free vacations. Celebrities such as Beyonce, Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock have visited, while Denzel Washington and Chuck Norris have homes there.

But those catering for the needs of the holidaying jet set are far from wealthy.

Kenny said: “The most devastating thing is to see peoples’ homes destroyed. Roofs were lifted off and windows smashed in.

“Their belongings have been destroyed. We were shocked by how much destruction had come with the storm.”

Kenny has been with the Red Cross since 2003 and he will be deployed on the island for about two months, to assist the Anguillan Red Cross and develop a strategy for recovery.

Locals have been left with no electricity and running water.

Debris including electricity poles has been strewn across roads, making access difficult. Chronic fuel shortages have furthered hampered mobility.

Kenny said: “There is a real fear among people that the tourist season, which normally begins around November, is not going to happen.

“Some of the volunteers who are coming to us to help have already lost their jobs or know that they will not get the seasonal work they would normally expect.

“The vast majority of the population here are not wealthy and have low incomes so they need that work to survive. The Red Cross is focusing its relief operations on those people.”

Kenny and the team have been living off dehydrated food for the last 10 days because supermarkets have been closed and food supplies low. Restaurants and cafes are shut.

Key infrastructure has been damaged and the Princess Alexandra hospital was battered, although it is now up and running, with vital diagnostic services and life saving essentials such as dialysis, functioning within a few days.

British Royal Marines cleared up much of the damage at the hospital but primary health care services relied on by the poorest were devastated and many pharmacies destroyed.

There has been criticism of the speed of the UK response to the needs of its British Overseas Territory.

In total, the UK has deployed 1000 troops, 50 police officers, humanitarian and consular experts and more than 40 tons of aid across the territories.

This includes 2608 shelter kits, providing shelter for 13,000 people, and 2304 solar lanterns, providing essential light and power for 11,000 people.

About £57million of relief for the Overseas Territories has been made available, and the Department for International Development is matching every pound donated to a British Red Cross Appeal, up to a limit of £3million.

Anguilla has a population of only 15,000 and the island has a real sense of community.

Although many people are displaced, there has been no need to set up camps, as locals who still have homes have opened them to others.

Kenny said: “There is a real island mentality here and it is the nature of the Caribbean for people to help each other. It has been a good environment to work in.

“Although there is desperation, there hasn’t been looting or increase in crime and we haven’t seen aggression at the distribution points which is not always the case in a situation as bad as this.”

Relatively strict building controls did mean a number of people had concrete homes with concrete roofs but there are many more who could afford only shacks with flimsy corrugated roofs which were easily peeled back by winds.

The Red Cross building on the island was completely destroyed and relief vehicles were thrown against buildings and are too damaged to be used.

The Red Cross have supplied ¬vulnerable families with bottled water and basic foodstuffs such as rice and pasta. The charity also distributed tarpaulins for temporary repairs, hygiene and cleaning materials.

Kenny said: “Poor families had a little bit stockpiled but the level of destruction to many of the homes was complete, so those stockpiles were lost.”

A cash relief programme operated in partnership with DFID, is a key to recovery and families in need will be targeted with grants to help them rebuild their homes and lives.

Fortunately, Hurricane Maria, which devastated many areas last Monday, only clipped the island, although it compounded structural damage and the relief effort was suspended for a day.

The greatest concern now is heavy rains, which would make any buildings which are just about habitable now, completely inhabitable.

Kenny said: “Heavy rains now would be disastrous.”

Source: Source: Daily Record 

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