As Residents Start To Return, Devastated Barbuda Struggles To Rebuild

Oct 7, 2017
Originally published on October 10, 2017 7:16 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going back to the Caribbean now. We've been focused these last few weeks on the terrible impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. But you might remember that before Maria came, Irma, which caused massive destruction elsewhere in the region, especially on Barbuda, where the prime minister reported that 95 percent of the island's buildings were destroyed. And nearly every one of the nearly 2,000 residents fled to its sister island, Antigua. So when Hurricane Irma hit a month ago, we spoke with freelance journalist Anika Kentish, who's based in Antigua. So we thought we'd check back with her to find out how things are going a month later. We're speaking to her via Skype. Anika Kentish, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ANIKA KENTISH: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So when we last spoke, you were at a shelter on Antigua, speaking to Barbudans who'd evacuated their homes. And I've read that some residents were able to - or have been able to return home. Do you have any sense of how many?

KENTISH: Well, I do not have a sense of how many. But what has been happening over the past few weeks is that Barbudans had the opportunity to go back to Barbuda to help with the clean up, to clean up their properties and also to feed their animals because many of them came over to Antigua leaving pets behind, leaving their livestock behind. So they were able to go back to Barbuda, whether it's every few days or every week, to be able to leave food for their animals and to assist in the cleanup process. Since then, the mandatory evacuation order has been lifted. It's been lifted just about a week now.

MARTIN: When we last spoke, we were talking about just kind of the emotional state of people. In essence, just about everybody who lived on the island had to leave and just how disorienting that was. And I just wondered if you had a sense of what people's emotional state is now, especially because they don't really know when they can go back to their homes?

KENTISH: Well, there's some people, I have to admit, who are very well settled over here. And there are others who - there's a gentleman I spoke to a couple of weeks ago, and he said, you know, I'm glad that I'm here. I'm glad that I'm safe. And people taking are good care of me. But I miss having my routine. He said, you know, he missed being able to get up in the morning and tend to his animals and having his own routine and his own space.

But then there are other people who are still rattled because when Maria actually passed through, it was - we experienced tropical-storm-force winds. And one friend of mine who was hosting a Barbudan family said to me that one person in the house, when she heard that that wind outside, she basically broke down because of all the memories that, you know, stirred up because of Irma.

MARTIN: Is there any timeline being discussed for getting people back home to Barbuda if they want to go? In Puerto Rico, for example, it's been said that it will be months or perhaps even a year before the entire electrical grid is back up and running. So that's what people are saying there. What about Barbuda? Is there any timeline being talked about?

KENTISH: No, I don't think there's any firm timeline that's been put out. The different agencies involved in the process still trying to figure out what they're going to do. Case in point, even the electric company now, they're going to have to make a decision if they're going to restore all of those utility poles or use the opportunity to start burying the cables. One of the priorities right now is getting the hospital back up and running so that if those people who are there, those who choose to go back and the security teams that are there now, that they have immediate access to medical attention should it be needed.

MARTIN: That's Anika Kentish. She's a freelance journalist based in Antigua. She was nice enough to talk to us via Skype. Anika, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KENTISH: Pleasure to be here.

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