You might have heard about these news stories last year. Although the digit at the end of our calendars has ticked on by one, they continue to pose important questions which we should carry on discussing for the rest of winter, and beyond …
2017’s hurricane season has been described as the costliest on record. Hurricane Harvey was the highest intensity storm to strike the US mainland in over ten years and caused widespread flooding throughout Texas and Louisiana. Hurricane Irma was forecast to be the most dangerous storm to ever strike Florida; although the damage it ultimately caused was less extensive than had been feared, over 80 people tragically lost their lives.
But what happened to the territories that these storms passed through on their way northwards? Before striking the US in September, Irma flattened the tiny island of Barbuda. 90% of properties were reportedly damaged by the storm. Mercifully, all 1,800 residents had already been evacuated to nearby Antigua, though a huge proportion of them are yet to return to what’s left of their homes on a permanent basis.
It’s hard to fully describe just how much havoc was wreaked when Hurricane Maria struck Dominica less than a fortnight later. Trees that had stood undisturbed for over 200 years were uprooted by winds which peaked at over 150mph. The storm’s aftermath is explored by Guardian reporter Josh Toussaint-Strauss in this moving report.
The storms’ initial impacts were devastating, and many Caribbean nations are still coming to terms with their consequences. At the turn of the year, 45% of homes in Puerto Rico were still without power, three months after Maria hit the US territory with so much force that news agencies estimate that as many as a thousand people may have lost their lives.
The outlook for these islands is considered bleak, with climate change likely to affect both the frequency and intensity of these terrifying storms. The timeliness and adequacies of some governments’ responses have been called into question, and the fact that such a large proportion of the islands’ economies are reliant upon tourism means that whilst devastation abounds and time is spent rebuilding existing infrastructure, a reduction in visitor numbers will also impact many people’s prospects of making ends meet in the meantime.
Observers in Europe may find themselves asking why we haven’t heard more about this ongoing crisis, which is taking place in such close proximity to a nation often referred to as the world’s most powerful and influential. More existential questions abound about the islanders’ future: is the sad reality that they (and others who are most exposed to the impact of global warming) need to get used to their lives being blighted by these sorts of disasters on a regular basis?
Liam David Hopley