Hurricanes Irma and Maria have brought widespread destruction to the Caribbean. Trevor Queeley, from the Anguilla Red Cross, says Maria is delaying the aid effort, but his teams are eager to get back to helping people.
Hurricane Maria is battering our shores, less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma brought devastation to Anguilla. As I write this, people are sheltering from powerful winds and tropical storm conditions.
We don’t have any reports of injuries on Anguilla as yet, but that could change. I know some people have lost their temporary shelter materials, such as tarpaulins, so we’ll need additional supplies.
But we’re lucky that we’re only experiencing the outer edges of Hurricane Maria.
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A state of shock
You can try to imagine what it was like as Hurricane Irma passed over our islands, but to experience it was something else.
I was inside my home. It’s made from concrete, but the building was shaking. You could hear glass and debris crashing against the walls.
This was the first time in my life that I’ve been worried about the destructive force of a storm.
It was a very intense experience for me and talking to others, they all said the same thing: this storm is more powerful than all the others.
As soon as it was safe to go outside, I went to check the damage. People were in a state of shock.
Someone came to my house and told me I needed to go check the Red Cross building, saying only: “You have work to do.”
When I got there the entire building was in ruins. All our equipment was damaged. We had no place to run our response operation.
Our mobile first aid unit was turned upside down against out storage container. I never imagined such destruction.
More than 90 per cent of the islands’ housing stock is severely damaged with many houses uninhabitable.
Many of those who have been displaced are living with friends and family. Some are trying to relocate to other accommodation, although most can’t afford to rent the high-end apartments.
It’s been a really traumatic experience for everyone who lives in Anguilla, and across the Caribbean.
Although they may appear calm on the outside, you can see the trauma in their eyes. They’ve witnessed and survived one of the most power storms in recent Caribbean history.
We’re a strong community and we look after each other. People get together and talk about the storm. They console each other. Some have lost everything. We are determined to do everything we can to help them.
Maria delays aid shipments
Since Irma struck, we’ve given out food, hygiene kits, cleaning kits, and shelter materials to around 1,500 households.
Our volunteers have been going out into the communities to conduct needs assessments and distribute relief items.
We’ve had around 40 volunteers working every day since Irma hit nearly two weeks ago. They’ve all been affected by the storms as well.
Their homes have been damaged, their possessions have been lost, some have lost their jobs, yet still they’re coming to volunteer to help their community.
Hurricane Maria is delaying the relief effort. The last two days’ worth of aid shipments have had to be rescheduled, so we’re going to have to be extra cautious with the supplies that we’ve got until our ports reopen.
We also need to get the mains electricity back up and running; engineers are working to resolve this.
The next priority is to start rebuilding our communities and making sure people have homes to return to. This will take time, but however long it takes, we will help as best we can.
The Red Cross doesn’t just do response and recovery. A big part of our work involves preparing communities for disasters.
A community that knows what to do and where to go in the event of a natural disaster stands a better chance of not only surviving, but recovering much faster.
Our disaster risk reduction programme has been running for five years. We’ve done training in the community and supported the creation of community response teams. We’ve helped communities develop response plans and evacuation plans.
Undoubtedly this programme made a huge difference when Irma struck. Not only has it saved lives, it has also helped people to identify with the Red Cross.
People know us and trust us. They know we’re part of their community and that we’ll be here when they need us.
As soon as the winds from Hurricane Maria calm, we’ll be back out on the streets helping the most vulnerable.
Trevor Queeley, disaster programme manager with the Anguilla Red Cross
- Please donate to our Hurricane Appeal to support people affected by the storms across the region.