London, 24 April 2018 – The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the worst in living memory. Major damage was recorded in Mexico and central America, and across the southern states of the USA, but perhaps the most significant devastation was seen on some of the Caribbean islands. The Salvation Army's Caribbean, Latin America North and USA Eastern Territories, utilising staff and officers from corps (Salvation Army churches) across the region, was on the scene immediately, providing emergency help and aid to those in the greatest need. More than six months later, the response continues.
On the morning of 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the northern Caribbean. Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, Sint Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and St Kitts and Nevis were badly affected and Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable, with most of the population being evacuated for their safety. Hurricane Irma was swiftly followed by Maria, the 10th-strongest hurricane in recorded history, which made landfall in Puerto, Turk and Caicos, and Dominica – where at least 80 per cent of the population was affected.
As the clouds began to clear, the severity of the situation was exposed to the world and The Salvation Army responded with numerous projects, providing food, shelter, non-food items (NFIs), mattresses and beds, and putting in place livelihood recovery programmes.
Working with local governments across the Caribbean, the neediest people were selected as initial beneficiaries for projects made possible by donations from the USA-based Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) and Salvation Army offices in Canada, The Netherlands, Norway and the USA Eastern Territory. Non-Salvation Army donors included EO Metterdaad and Coca-Cola.
Experienced responders were also sent to the region on behalf of The Salvation Army's International Emergency Services team, based in London. They provided expert assistance to local Salvation Army teams and reported back on some of the life-saving projects they witnessed.
One story that the team said was particularly memorable is that of a man known as Mr Louis, a retired 69-year-old who has lived on Dutch-speaking Sint Maarten since birth. As a child, he experienced Hurricane Donna, a category 5 storm that hit Sint Maarten in 1960, but he told Salvation Army workers that he had never seen anything like Hurricane Irma.
On the night of 5 September, Mr Louis went to bed as usual, only to be woken up in the middle of the night by severe winds and rain hammering his house. Frightened, he huddled with his wife and daughter in the living room, only for the roof of his home to be crushed by a fridge that had been thrown through the air by the storm. The family sought shelter from the rain in their car but, when they saw other cars and even sea containers being lifted and thrown around by the strong winds, they moved to their cellar. They stayed there until the hurricane had passed the island the next day.
Coming out of their shelter, they witnessed absolute devastation. The hurricane had caused major damage to their house – the porch was completely ripped away, windows were broken, doors were gone, the roof was crushed and most of their furniture would be impossible to save due to extreme water damage.
Conducting assessment visits to the Cole Bay area of Sint Maarten, where Mr Louis's family has lived for more than 100 years, The Salvation Army identified him as a beneficiary of the shelter rebuilding programme. The damage was assessed and Mr Louis was provided with materials to rebuild his home, including hurricane straps that will make his new roof hurricane proof.
Mr Louis was helped to rebuild his house by his neighbours, supported by the Salvation Army team in Sint Maarten. He says that it will take years for Sint Maarten to recover from this devastating disaster, but he feels blessed with the support provided by The Salvation Army. He feels confident that, now the repairs to his house have been completed – especially the new roof – he will be able to protect his family from the hurricanes that he knows will continue to sweep across the Caribbean every year.
The Sint Maarten rebuilding programme is just one of a number of Salvation Army projects still under way across the Caribbean. On Turks and Caicos, for instance, children are being provided with school lunches and uniforms to help them to continue their education. Beds and bedding have been provided on the Bahamas, rebuilding programmes are under way on Dominica and on Barbuda, where households have been provided with basic provisions to see them through the short term and fishermen and a fisherwoman have received new boats and equipment to start replacing everything that was lost when Hurricane Irma struck. The response on St Kitts and Nevis includes providing assistance to the people who lost their homes.
Already, the people of the Caribbean are looking ahead to the 2018 hurricane season and wondering how they will be affected. The Salvation Army is committed to sustainable projects that bolster and enrich communities, enabling people to recover in the short term but also to be better prepared when, not if, the next hurricane arrives – maybe not this year or next year, but at some point in the near future.
From reports by Maike Bennema and Samuel Shearer
International Emergency Services
Photos of the rebuilding work on Sint Maarten can be downloaded from the IHQ Flickr stream: sar.my/sintmaartenmar18About The Salvation Army