Today marks the day, a year ago, when a vicious Category 5 hurricane named Irma slammed into our sister island of Barbuda and left her in shambles. It was a dark day! And in the immediate aftermath, when all communication with the outside world went dead, many in Antigua, and indeed the outside world, feared the worst. After all, our sister island is exceedingly low-lying, and what the wind and the rain could not do, there was the fear that the storm surge, reported to have been several feet high, would swamp the island, much like an earthquake-driven tsunami. Fervent prayers went up for Barbuda as the silence from the sister isle grew heart-wrenchingly deafening – as if souls were crying out from a watery grave.
To his credit, our Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, did not ‘fiddle while Codrington drowned,’ Nay he sprang into action, and the very next day, landed at Barbuda’s tiny airstrip to a scene of utter devastation and despair. According to reports of those who were there, Barbudans were wandering around the villages in a daze, too stunned to say much, and hoping against the evidence of their own eyes, that this was all a horrid nightmare from which they would soon awaken. Alas! This was no nightmare! This was the full wrath of Mother Nature exacting some measure of revenge for our environmental recklessness. Seems, humankind had eaten the sour grapes of fossil fuel emissions, and Barbuda’s teeth was set on edge.
But all was not lost! Apparently, even in the wind and the deluge and the floods of near-Biblical proportions, there was the still small voice of God, Almighty! And even in his wrath, so to speak, he remembered mercy. Notwithstanding the sad fact that 47 lives were lost, all told, in the Caribbean and the United States as a result of Irma, in Barbuda, only one precious soul perished – that of our dearly beloved, Carl Francis Jr. who was barely two years old. Of course, when Carl Jr. was swept from his godmother’s arms by the tempestuous wind and waves, a piece of us was swept away with him. From all reports, he was a delightful little boy, and we here at OBSERVER media will forever cherish the fond memories that those who knew him share. Whenever the winds howl, and the waters roar, we will hear the tiny voice of Carl Jr. We will look to our God who “Plants His feet upon the hills and rides upon the storm!” We will look for the rainbow and the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
Ah yes, a brighter tomorrow. Sigh! The jury is still out as to whether the Barbudans were treated fairly in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. And there are some who wonder whether history will be kind to those who may or may not have done right by the Barbudans. And not to reopen old wounds, but there are some who argue that following the heroic evacuation of Barbuda when Hurricane Jose threatened (again PM Browne deserves much credit for the Herculean undertaking), and the initial town-hall meeting at the American University of Antigua at which many noble things were promised, the relationship between the central government and the Barbudans went south rather rapidly. For one thing, even before the first batch of debris was removed, even in the midst of their utter bewilderment and loss, there was talk of them being ‘squatters,’ and the debate began as to who owned the lands of Barbuda and so on and so forth. It was an unseemly and ugly spectacle – Big Brother and Little Sister squabbling and finger-pointing instead of looking to the business of rebuilding.
Not to mention the talk of a ‘land-grab’ especially in light of a certain questionable clause in a certain sweetheart deal with a certain investor. Of course, suspicions deepened when there seemed to be a prioritising of the new airport project over such things as the Hannah Thomas Hospital, the Holy Trinity School, the restoration of water and electricity and the removal of rubble. Not to mention the downright spiteful and vicious name-calling. Yes, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, words such as ‘deracinated,’ ‘imbeciles,’ ‘in-breeding,’ ‘mendicants,’ and other unflattering adjectives became part of our daily lexicon, much to our dismay. And much to the astonishment of the world!
Look, we here at OBSERVER media could chronicle the hurled invectives and mud-slinging on both sides of the divide from persons who should know better. Who can forget the Freudian-slip-of-an-admission to “pampering” the Barbuda people in order to get votes and so on and so forth? Again we will wait on the verdict of history rather than further sully our on-line platform with a regurgitation of the gory details of all that transpired – “the good, the bad and the ugly,” in the year since Hurricane Irma.
Not surprisingly, Big Brother has been patting himself on the back and saying, in not so many words, that all things considered, “We have done extraordinarily well!” The Director of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), Philmore Mullin, is on record as saying that he is satisfied with the recovery effort, “Inspite of what people are saying.” Yes, the word coming from officialdom is that “Barbudans should be proud!” Hmmm! We are not sure why this blowing of one’s own trumpet and shameless self-praise is so reminiscent of our Big Brother to the north, who earlier said that he was so very proud of the great work done by his government in Puerto Rico following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Good grief! Seems, a number of folks are shaking their heads!
Meanwhile, we here at OBSERVER media believe that the verdict on the Hurricane Irma response is a mixed bag. Some things worked, some things did not. And on the side of the ledger of things that did not work is the intransigence of the stakeholders and their unwillingness to dialogue in good faith. No wonder a number of persons are suggesting that this is a not-so-happy anniversary.