Hurricane Irma affects a tourism-driven region

MEGAN PINCKNEY | 9/21/2017, 5:01 p.m.
Last week, the Western Hemisphere experienced one of the worst hurricanes in recorded history.
St. Maarten/St. Martin (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Last week, the Western Hemisphere experienced one of the worst hurricanes in recorded history. Hurricane Irma came through 425 miles wide with wind speeds of 185 miles per hour and destroyed everything in its path, including islands that depend heavily on tourism to stabilize their economies. A few islands, St. Eustatius, Montserrat, Dominican Republic and Haiti, were spared the wrath of Irma, but most weren’t as lucky.

Now, as the New York Amsterdam News goes to print, the same region is being pummeled by yet another massive hurricane. As if Irma’s destruction wasn’t enough to disturb the region’s biggest economy driver, residents are left to helplessly watch as Hurricane Maria destroys what Irma didn’t. After this storm passes, the race will be on to rebuild and re-establish these islands as picturesque vacation destinations before the all-important winter high season begins.

Here’s a look at how the first major hurricane of the season affected each island:

Anguilla suffered significant damage from the hurricane. The storm reportedly destroyed 90 percent of the electricity infrastructure, several local restaurants and the island’s main water supply was severely harmed. Many government buildings reported damage, although most hotels reported no major structural blows (with the exception of the CuisinArt Resorts). Although the Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport had been closed for days, it has finally reopened (just with a much less busy schedule). Because Anguilla’s economy relies heavily on luxury tourism, the race is on to finish all repairs before the Christmas season begins.

Antigua and Barbuda, a two-island nation, suffered different fates from Hurricane Irma’s destructive path. Antigua, the larger of the two, was mostly spared. Its V.C. Bird International Airport has been open for all flights, and all hotels plan to start this season on schedule. Barbuda, however, was not as lucky. Only 28 miles to the north, this island suffered tremendously from the flooding waters and high winds and is now in ruins. Nearly all residents have been evacuated to their sister-island. Both islands rely heavily on tourism, and most fear that the devastation will greatly affect their economy.

The Islands of the Bahamas were, for the most part, unscathed of any significant damage from Hurricane Irma and are getting back to business as usual. Airports are open on Nassau, Grand Bahama Island and nearly all the Out Islands. International flights to the U.S., including to some parts of Florida, resumed Sept. 12. Ports have also reopened, allowing cruise ships to begin to return.

Cuba, especially its capital Havana, was hit extremely hard by Hurricane Irma. The island experienced major flooding, power outages and wind damage. There are reports that some places are still without water. Last week, the State Department advised U.S. citizens to suspend travel to Cuba while recovery efforts are ongoing.

The Florida Keys stood right in the path of destruction of Hurricane Irma and have been left battered. Most of the region has no fuel, electricity, running water or cell service. Residents have been advised to bring back anything they may need (medication, water, food) with them as they return home, and visitors are being advised to postpone travel plans for the near future. Flights to and from the Key West International and Florida Keys Marathon International airports have been canceled until further notice.