ST JOHN'S, Antigua (CMC) — Prime Minister Gaston Browne Friday reiterated that Barbuda, which was hit by Hurricane Irma earlier this week, is “uninhabitable” and that there will “be a mandatory evacuation of every single person” there.
Speaking on radio after making a visit to the battered island, Prime Minister Browne told listeners that he has never seen anything of this magnitude.
“Nothing is functional in Barbuda,” he said, adding that he has given instructions that "every single soul must be taken out of Barbuda”.
The Antigua and Barbuda government has already declared a state of emergency to help deal with the disaster caused by Hurricane Irma that pummelled the tiny Caribbean country on Wednesday as it made its way through the Leeward Islands.
“Barbuda is uninhabitable even without the impending storm Jose, Barbuda is uninhabitable. There is no way we could leave the people of Barbuda staying in that rubble. It is an absolute mangled wreck,” he said noting that he had been able to observe the structural damages caused by the storm.
“My preliminary assessment is that perhaps the cost of rebuilding is estimated at EC$100 million (One EC dollar =US$0.37 cents) I want to tell you it will cost hundreds of millions because most of the property there are not salvageable.”
He said there will be a fundamental situation in rebuilding Barbuda “based on the shared resources” noting “clearly domestic resources are insufficient and we will have to go on a major push to get resources to rebuild Barbuda.
“All of the public institutions have been damaged. The entire public utility infrastructure has been decimated, the telecommunications infrastructure. So there is literally nothing in Barbuda that is operational,” Browne said.
He said "there is no way we could leave human beings to live under those conditions,” adding “the island is still underwater and when you look at the possibility for the spread of vector borne and water borne diseases, I am of the view that the Barbudans have no choice but to leave”.
At least one child died during the storm on the island that has a population of just over 1,600. And Browne said the state of emergency was to give his administration the required legal backing to order the evacuation.
“It has incensed a number of people who apparently thinking of staying and we have made it abundantly clear to them that they have no choice. If we have to use security officers to vacate them from the island we will do so,” he told radio listeners.
“As I said before Barbuda is uninhabitable even without Jose, which will be an additional threat. In its present form the island is uninhabitable,” Prime Minister Brown reiterated.
Hurricane Jose, an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm was getting closer to the Northern Leeward islands on Friday, with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (mph) that forecasters warn could cause further damage to countries battered by Hurricane Irma earlier this week.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) in its 11:00 am (local time) bulletin,said that Jose, which was located 415 miles east south east of the chain of islands, could strengthen over the next 48 hours before it gradually weakens.
Anguilla, Sint Maarten, St Martin and St Barthelemy that also felt the fury of Hurricane Irma, were also placed under a hurricane warning.
“On the forecast track, the center of Jose will pass near or east of the northeastern Leeward Islands on Saturday,” it said, adding that hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 115 miles.
“Jose is expected to produce total rain accumulations of three to five inches in the Leeward Islands from Guadeloupe to Anguilla, with isolated maximum amounts of eight inches. Jose is also expected to produce total rain accumulations of one to three inches over the Virgin Islands and Dominica,” the NHC said, warning “this rainfall will maintain any ongoing flooding and may cause additional life-threatening flooding”.
Browne said he cannot “see anyone expecting a responsible government to allow anyone to stay in Barbuda, considering that you have a potential Category 4 hurricane that could hit Antigua and Barbuda”.