The primate of the West Indies, Archbishop John Holder, has briefed his fellow Anglican Primates on the devastation caused by two recent Category Five hurricanes which hit the Caribbean islands within two weeks of each other. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused “enormous” damage to the islands and came on top of a series of tropical cyclones to hit the area.
Later, in an interview for the Anglican Communion News Service, Archbishop John explained that two dioceses in his province were particularly hit: the North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba in the south, and the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos in the north. “In the Diocese of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba there are two islands that were devastated,” he said. “The island of Barbuda was a small island of 1200 persons and they all had to be moved out and taken to Antigua. Dominica suffered severe damage. In fact, in Dominica, 95 per cent of their buildings were either destroyed or severely damaged. It is going to take billions of dollars to put Dominica back on the right track again.
“In terms of the Diocese of Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, the islands of the Turks and Caicos islands were severely damaged,” he said, “so we have had a lot of damage in the Caribbean and a lot of damage in my province.”
The bishops of the province are asking churches in the least affected areas to organise special collections and to send money to the bishops of the two dioceses for distribution to those most affected.
“The dioceses are one of the best networks in the Caribbean and we are going to use that network to get to the people who were affected on the ground to be able to help them,” Archbishop John said. “We will do all that we can in the province to respond to the situation; but many persons outside [are helping], for example, we have had calls from [the Anglican mission agency] USPG, from the Anglican Alliance, from Trinity Wall Street [a large Anglican church in New York], and a lot of other agencies who are going to chip in to help us respond to the devastation from these two hurricanes.”
Hurricane Maria struck the islands when they were already struggling from the effects of Hurricane Irma. And both Category 5 hurricanes came on top of many other tropical cyclones to have hit this year. The effects of disaster after disaster “can be demoralising”, Archbishop John said, “but we live in a region where we expect the hurricanes every year between the months of July and November.
“Some years there are no hurricanes. Other years there are one or two or three. So they are accustomed to that. But no matter how accustomed you are to the hurricane experience, if one year you lost everything – I mean everything – then it can be very demoralising and debilitating in many ways.
“But there is a strong spirit of resilience in the people of the Caribbean and they will come back. We will come back. The good thing about the hurricane is that you can prepare for that so that the loss of life will be to the minimum. The people are in the kind of mood where they will take the losses, count their losses, accept the help given and try to rebuild again. It will take many, many years to try to rebuild Dominica, but with God’s help, they will do that.”