x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Hurricane Irma turns Barbuda to 'rubble' as storm the size of France churns through the Caribbean

There are fears for a pregnant woman and her sister who have not made contact with their family since Wednesday evening

General view of damage following Hurricane Irma hitting Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin September 6, 2017 in an image taken from social media. Eze Egwuatu/ Handout via REUTERS
General view of damage following Hurricane Irma hitting Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin September 6, 2017 in an image taken from social media. Eze Egwuatu/ Handout via REUTERS

When the storm struck, Afiya Frank and her sister Asha had finished boarding up their Barbudan bungalow, which was well-stocked with food and emergencies supplies.

As the ravages of Hurricane Irma, a once-in-a-generation maelstrom nearly the size of France, arrived the sisters aged 27 and 29, had sent a last message on the WhatsApp service to their aunt. They were braced for chaos but that was the last message the family had received.

Survivors in Barbuda told on Thursday how the storm reduced the island, part of Antigua and Barbuda, to a wasteland. “This is like a horror movie,” declared the state TV broadcaster. “Persons were literally running from house to house and we had cars flying over our heads. We had containers, 40ft containers, flying left and right. Persons were tying themselves to rooves to keep themselves down.”

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has ordered a special plane to evacuate UAE citizens from the US State of Florida to a safe destination before Hurricane Irma reaches there on Saturday or Sunday.

An appeal has been launched to find Afiya, who is six months pregnant and works at a holiday resort. Her sister, Asha, 29, works as an ecological expert and was helping with marine conservation efforts on the island. She had been helping organise the local emergency operations in the hours before the category 5 storm struck.

Sisters Asha and Afiya Frank have not made contact with their family since Wednesday evening. Facebook
Sisters Asha and Afiya Frank have not made contact with their family since Wednesday evening. Facebook

The women’s aunt, Ruth Bolton, who is in Britain, said she just wanted to “hug” her missing nieces.

"They had boarded up the house that my sister had just finished building with wood and stocked up on water etc. They are always well prepared for storms in Barbuda. It's a brick house and hopefully stood some of the storm,” she told the Daily Mirror. "We had contact till about 10.30 pm our time last night via WhatsApp and then that was it. Nothing since and no way to find out how they are.

Afiya and Asha’s parents Mackenzie and Claire Frank, who have lived in Barbuda for 30 years, are currently holidaying in Britain and are anxiously awaiting updates.

A two-year-old child is known to have died while a family tried to escape the category five storm, which has destroyed nearly all the buildings on the island.

Barbuda’s prime minister Gaston Browne described the island as being “literally a rubble” since Irma struck.

"The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just total devastation,” he said.

Irma, the most powerful Hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, has left at least ten people dead across the Caribbean, including eight in French run St Martins.

Anguilla, a British territory, was one of the first of the islands to be hit before the Hurricane moved onto the French territories.

Josephine Gumbs-Connor, a barrister who lives on the island of Anguilla, described the area as looking like it had been through Armageddon. “When you look at our island at the moment, you would think it had suffered nuclear bomb damage,” she said.

European leaders were on emergency alert as a result of Irma. The French, British and Dutch all retain control islands hit by the storm as it passed through the Caribbean. Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May spoke by phone to co-ordinate a huge relief operation to save lives and provide emergency support.

Mr Macron said all of France had mobilised in solidarity with its Caribbean possessions. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said the epic storm had left widescale destruction. "There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark, in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world," he said.

Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Thursday that the UK was doing everything it could to help with the crisis.

“Our thoughts go out to the people who have been affected, to those families who have lost loved ones, and as you can expect we are doing everything we can with humanitarian relief and assistance” Mr Johnson said.

“We have the fleet auxiliary boat RFA Mounts Bay is in the vicinity, we have people on the ground.”

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, said at least eight people had been killed on the territory of St Martin and that figure was expected to rise.

“We did not have the time yet to explore all the shores,” he said.

Irma, which had maximum sustained wind speeds of 185mph, was heading towards Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti on Thursday morning.

In this satellite image released by NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Hurricane Irma reaches Puerto Rico on Wednesday. NASA/NOAA GOES Project via AP
In this satellite image released by NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Hurricane Irma reaches Puerto Rico on Wednesday. NASA/NOAA GOES Project via AP

The impoverished nation of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Dominic Republic, has still not recovered from the damage left by Hurricane Matthew, which claimed 546 lives last year.

Aid agency Unicef has estimated that there are more than 10.5 million children living in countries likely to be affected by Irma.

The charity said children in the eastern Caribbean islands of Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba are most at risk.

Unicef spokesman Patrick Knight, said: “Our priority is to reach all those children and families in the affected communities as soon as possible.”

In the United States, residents of the Florida Keys located off the southern coast of Florida, have been issued with a mandatory evacuation order. Donald Trump tweeted to Americans that the storm would do heavy damage, including in areas when he has substantial property interests such as the Mar a Lago resorts.

Florida is expected to feel the effects of the storm by Saturday, although forecasters do not know for certain whether Irma will make landfall in the US.

Irma is expected to have left the Caribbean by Friday, however, a second storm- Hurricane Jose- is believed to be hot on its heels.

Meteorologists have warned that the category one storm could strengthen and wreak further devastation. Jose is expected to follow a similar path to Irma, arriving in the Caribbean by the weekend.

A post shared by Sam Branson (@bransonsam) on

Among the dozens of celebrities and prominent property owners in the region was the Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson. He survived by sleeping with his staff in a cellar on the Necker resort. “Glad to say that all humans on Necker are ok although a lot of buildings destroyed. Very concerned for our friends and everyone on the neighbouring islands and people in its path,” his son Sam Branson said. “Please don't take this hurricane lightly if it is heading your way. If your building is not very solid, do find somewhere safe! Homes can be rebuilt but lives can't.”