JoeAnne Harrigan, 50, huddled with nine members of her family in the stairwell of her mother’s home when Hurricane Irma smacked Tortola island in the Caribbean on Wednesday. For more than three hours, they took turns holding the door shut as the wind and rains whipped through the house.
“We heard the water gushing and things cracking and glass breaking. Our ears were popping. My mother was praying the ‘Hail Mary,’” she said.
At least 37 people died in the Caribbean from the massive hurricane that also caused widespread damage and power outages across Florida. Police confirmed five deaths on the British island of Tortola.
A week later, most people have recovered from their shock, Harrigan said, and cleanup has started. The British military deployed troops to help with the cleanup and provide water and food to the residents.
Some homes no longer have roofs, and cars with windows punched out “look like they’ve been through a war zone,” she said. Part of the roof ripped off her mother’s house and none of the electrical appliances are working.
A store she helps her mother run that sells school uniforms, party supplies and baby items was flooded. Another one of their stores, near a cruise port, that sells leather bags and other goods to tourists was looted. “I guess it’s survival and that’s how people in third world countries survive, because right now this is what we are, we’re in a third world state with no running water and no electricity.”
Smoke lingered in the air from people burning garbage. Dumpsters overflowed with debris and rotting vegetables.
Supermarkets are open, and people waited in lines to buy food. Shipments come from the U.S. twice a week, and residents were waiting to see if the cargo ships would resume their schedule, said Harrigan.
“You just have to exercise patience. It’s just one day at a time, it’s all we can do right now.”