Irma Ravages Caribbean: Escaped Prisoners Loose in the British Virgin Islands

September 13, 2017

Days after Hurricane Irma left unthinkable destruction on numerous Caribbean islands – several of which are U.S. territories – residents are still calling out for desperately needed aid.

"My husband is in the Army. As he says, it looks like a war zone," Jennifer Stephens Cooper, an American citizen who works as a nurse in the U.S. Virgin Islands, told CNN.com as they continued to shelter in their heavily damaged home on St. Thomas. "There's not one tree left standing."

With so much desperation for food and supplies, reports of looting have circulated on several islands, leaving survivors with yet another worry.

"We're hearing rumors that people are posing as police officers and robbing people. We spoke with another nurse who was robbed at machete-point a few days ago," Cooper told CNN.com. "We're terrified. It's a desperate situation. When people run out of water and food, tempers flare. It's just going to get worse."

Several escaped prsioners are still on the loose in the British Virgin Islands. 

(PHOTOS: The Destruction Irma Left Behind)

At least 36 people have died in the Caribbean, from Barbuda to Cuba, as a result of the storm that maintained Category 5 strength throughout virtually its entire trip through the islands. A massive response came in the days following the storm as countries like France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom sent ships and troops to their territories, but some say the need for help has far outweighed the aid sent so far.

"There's no food here. There's no water here," 70-year-old St. Maarten resident Germania Perez told the Associated Press.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander arrived in St. Maarten Monday to survey the damage, and he was shocked by what he saw. More than 90 percent of the buildings on the Dutch side of the island were damaged, and some 33 percent were destroyed, the Dutch Red Cross announcd.

"I've never experienced anything like this before and I've seen a lot of natural disasters in my life," he told Dutch national network NOS. "I've seen a lot of war zones in my life, but I've never seen anything like this."

Cuba

The electricity network is still down in most Cuban provinces and the government continues to work on re-establishing power services throughout the island, Relief Web reports. 

At least 10 people died in Cuba in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma barreling through the island – the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the island nation since 1924. Evacuations are still underway in the Caribbean, where more aid is arriving after the hurricane raked a destructive path through the continental United States.

The majority of the victims in Cuba were killed by collapsing buildings, BBC.com reported. Cuba's president, Raul Castro, said recovering from the impact of the hurricane would be an "immense task."

Irma made landfall in northern Cuba Friday night as a Category 5 hurricane, ripping off roofs, collapsing buildings and flooding hundreds of miles of coastline.

According to the AP, Cuban authorities warn of staggering damage to all-inclusive resorts and cities along the keys on the northern coast, as well as farmland in central Cuba. Ahead of the storm, more than 5,000 tourists were evacuated. 

Video footage from northern and eastern Cuba showed severe damage. According to witnesses, a provincial museum near the eye of the storm was in ruins, and authorities in the city of Santa Clara said 39 buildings have collapsed.

Residents of "the capital should know that the flooding is going to last more than 36 hours, in other words, it is going to persist," Civil Defense Col. Luis Angel Macareno said late Saturday, noting that the sea water had penetrated some 2,000 feet into parts of Havana.

According to records from the National Weather Service, Irma is the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall on Cuba since October 1924. Irma is the deadliest storm to hit Cuba since Hurricane Dennis killed 16 in 2005.

Barbuda and Antigua

As relief efforts crank up in Antigua and Barbuda following Hurricane Irma, officials in Antigua are warning people to beware of fraudulent charity drives.

“The public have to take personal responsibility and do their research before they make a donation," Michael Joseph, president of the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross Society, told the Antigua Observer. "Don’t be afraid to request a letter or contact information from anyone who comes to collect anything on behalf of the Barbudans.”

The nation island nations are breathing a sigh of relief after Hurricane José veered north, sparing them a second hurricane strike.

Barbuda lost an estimated 95 percent of its buildings after Hurricane Irma blasted the island as a Category 5 hurricane early Wednesday. Prime Minister Gaston Browne described the island that is home to some 1,600 residents as "barely habitable."

The residents of the island were evacuated from the island at an estimated cost of $15 million. Browne said roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and it will take months, if not years, to recover.

The storm also claimed the life of Stevet Jeremiah's 2-year-old son, who was swept to his death after the hurricane ripped the roof off her house and filled it with water.

"There was so much water beating past us. We had to crawl to get to safety. Crawl," she told the AP. "I have never seen anything like this in my life, in all the years I experienced hurricanes. And I don't ever, ever, ever want to see something like this again. I have nothing. Not even an ID to say my name. Nothing. House gone. The only thing you see is the foundation."

U.S. Virgin Islands

Dozens of US soldiers in North Carolina boarded a flight to the U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday morning to provide assistance to the hurricane-ravaged area, CBS North Carolina reports.

Between 30 and 40 paratroopers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company and 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion will be deployed to the region to help with triage as well as treating and evacuating patients. 

At least four deaths have been reported from the group of islands. 

On the island of St. Thomas, power lines and towers were toppled, leaves were stripped off plants and trees, a water and sewage treatment plant was heavily damaged, and the harbor was in ruins, along with hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses.

St. Thomas resident Laura Strickling told the AP she and her family sheltered in their home for 12 hours as Irma clobbered the island. When the storm finally moved away, they emerged from their basement apartment and saw a largely unrecognizable landscape.

"There are no leaves. It is crazy. One of the things we loved about St. Thomas is that it was so green. And it's gone," Strickling said. "It will take years for this community to get back on its feet."

The island of St. John was also decimated and could be home to Irma's worst destruction on American soil, CBS News reports.

"We're totally devastated," Coral Bay, St. John, resident Tommy Young told the network. "We've lost homes, we've lost roofs. We've lost vehicles."

(MORE: A Complete List of Category 5 Hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin)

President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for the islands after Irma left severe damage. The declaration makes federal funding available for storm recovery on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas.

Amid the calamity, the community has unified on Facebook and through other messaging apps to offer each other help and support. The community established for themselves a Google doc entitled VI Fine for people to update information on if they and their neighbors are safe. In the days immediately after the storm, there was complete pandemonium as many locals were missing and family from abroad couldn't find their loved ones because of shoddy cell service and a scarcity of electricity. The communal doc helped locate hundreds of people, the community group boasts in comment updates on the post linking the document. 

Through the Facebook group, locals also started their own GoFundMe campaign to help rebuild the island, which has been devastated by the storm. The page was set up before President Trump approved the disaster declaration.

British Virgin Islands

A number of prisoners are still on the run after more than 100 escaped when Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands, the BBC reports. 

Police and troops have been sent to recapture the prisoners, the Foreign Office said, but some remain at large. Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said there was a "serious threat of the complete breakdown of law and order".

Devastation was widespread in the islands, but days after the storm passed, officials were still trying to get a full scope of the damage, according to the New York Times. Those who were able to assess the damage to their homes and towns said the destruction was severe.

"It is like an apocalyptic doomsday scene here," Catherine Clayton, who owns a hotel with her family on Tortola, told the Times. "No trees, leaves or greenery."

The storm descended on the British Virgin Islands Wednesday afternoon, with wind gusts measuring 110 mph. The islands are home to more than 20,000 residents. 

The United Kingdom sent aid and troops which arrived today to assist their overseas protectorate. 

Other Hard-Hit Islands

Power outages and widespread destruction were also reported in Puerto Rico and Haiti, where the country's bean and corn crops, as well as pasture land, were wiped out by the heavy rain and flooding.

One death was reported in Anguilla as the storm made 90 percent of the roads impassable, while "catastrophic" damage was reported in the islands of Turks and Caicos.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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