Already battered by deadly Hurricane Irma, Antigua and Barbuda is today bracing for a new threat---Hurricane Jose, which is forecast to become a “destructive category four system”.
Jose has been churning in the Atlantic closely on the heels of Irma which remains a monster category five storm. Irma devastated Barbuda as she rampaged through the Lesser Antilles and northern Caribbean on Wednesday, killing ten people, among them a two-year-old in Barbuda.
Even as Prime Minister Gaston Browne pondered how to begin the reconstruction of the tiny island, came an updated forecast that Jose, which at 6 pm yesterday was still a strong category three hurricane, would strengthen to a “destructive category four system” placing Antigua and Barbuda under a hurricane watch once more.
“We are very worried about Hurricane Jose,” Browne declared according to a report by The Washington Post.
It was a change in tone for the prime minister, who, in an interview with Newsday yesterday morning, felt a measure of optimism that emergency authorities were prepared for a second hurricane. He said then, relief efforts were being carried out at a satisfactory pace. Antiguans were advised to remain indoors and the authorities were prepared to evacuate Barbuda if necessary.
Initially, some left Barbuda voluntarily. But with the approach of Jose, the government last evening issued an order for mandatory evacuation of the nearly 2,000 residents to Antigua. The islands are under a state of emergency.
“We had a voluntary evacuation that’s now been upgraded to a mandatory evacuation, according to the State of Emergency Act,” Browne told Newsday late yesterday. “By tomorrow afternoon (today) we would have evacuated Barbuda.
Antiguans, he said, have been asked to once again “practise diligence and vigilance” as they did for Irma. Browne saw the rapid succession of three major hurricanes---Harvey, Irma and now Jose---as evidence of the effects of climate change.
“Climate change is real. The Caribbean has had to suffer the consequences while they, polluters, deny that it isn’t. So we are just hoping with the frequency of these storms and devastation those who are inclined will give reconsideration and there is a need for us to work together to face the real threats.” An initial forecast predicted Jose would hit by Sunday, but a 6 pm bulletin by the TT Meteorological Service said the hurricane would surge into an even more powerful storm between today and tomorrow, packing winds of 200 km per hour. Irma had sustained winds of 290 km per hour when she hit the island.
On Wednesday evening, Browne had described Barbuda as “barely habitable” with more than 90 per cent of its housing stock completely destroyed. The death of a child made the destruction even more devastating.
Browne gave a preliminary estimate of US$100 billion to reconstruct Barbuda.
“The relief effort is going very well. We will have a challenge in the actual rebuilding because preliminary reports of damage is in the area of approximately US$100 billion. That is going to be our challenge going forward,” Browne told Newsday earlier.
Trinidad and Tobago will provide a helicopter and crew for a week to help provide relief and aid for Barbuda, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) announced yesterday, indicating Government had communicated with the Browne administration.
“The Government has carefully considered the current difficult economic circumstances and despite these difficulties, because it recognises the responsibility of helping our Caricom neighbour in this time of disaster and need, it has agreed to provide this specific assistance,” the OPM said in release.
Sources within the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management revealed that, up until press time, issues of logistics and navigation were still being discussed among coordinators and crew members.
Jose is also expected to impact Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saba and St Eustatius which were placed on a tropical storm watch.