Barbuda, a 62-square-mile island in the eastern Caribbean, was left “practically uninhabitable” after the eye of Hurricane Irma engulfed the island Wednesday morning.
“Barbuda right now is literally a rubble,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told ABS TV/Radio Antigua.
“The entire housing stock was damaged,” Browne said after surveying the island, which is home to about 1,800 people. “It is just a total devastation.”
Satellite images show Barbuda completely engulfed within the eye of the Category 5 storm Wednesday morning.
— UW-Madison CIMSS (@UWCIMSS) September 6, 2017
Maximum sustained winds reached 185 mph when the storm hit the island. Wind speeds have since dropped some, but are still reaching 175 mph as the storm moves east.
“As it stands, Barbuda is practically uninhabitable,” Browne said, while calling the devastation “heart-wrenching.”
Browne said 95 percent of the buildings on Barbuda were destroyed by the hurricane, including the hospital and airport.
“A significant number of the houses have been totally destroyed,” said Browne’s chief of staff, Lionel Hurst.
One person, a young child, was killed.
— CNN International (@cnni) September 7, 2017
Browne had initially expressed optimism after riding out the storm on Antigua, an island home to about 80,000 people.
But he changed his tune after surveying the damage to Barbuda via helicopter.
“I never contemplated any possibility that you could have such a contrast,” Browne said.
“When I got there, for me, it was emotionally painful,” Browne told The Washington Post on Thursday. “It was sad to see such beautiful country being destroyed over a couple of hours.”
Browne estimates it will take about $100 million to rebuild the island, a “monumental challenge” for the small island nation. He called the devastation in Barbuda “one of the most significant disasters anywhere in the world” on a per capita basis.
Antigua and Barbuda will have little time to recover. The nation issued a hurricane watch after the National Hurricane Center released a bulletin Thursday morning warning that Hurricane Jose is “expected to become a major hurricane by Friday.”
“We are very worried about Hurricane Jose,” Browne told The Post.
Browne said he will make a final determination whether to issue a mandatory evacuation of Barbuda by Thursday night.
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