Hurricane Irma ‘will kill you’ officials warn

Island paradise of Barbuda before and after Hurricane Irma

BARBUDA was a little-known resort island in the east Caribbean once favoured as a secret holiday escape by Princess Diana.

The lesser-known twin island of Antigua, Barbuda lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

World renowned for its pink sand beaches many miles long, Barbuda was listed in 2016 by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the top ten destinations to watch.

Known for its peaceful way of life and natural beauty, Barbuda has abundant wildlife both in its thick bushland and in the turquoise waters which surround the 100km wide island with a population of just 1800.

But Hurricane Irma is approximately 725km wide and when it passed directly over Barbuda this week, the island paradise was hit "like a bomb".

As Antigua and Barbuda's Prime Minister Gaston Browne put it, Irma's winds fired "missiles" of debris at the island's helpless residents.

"Irma would easily be the most powerful hurricane to have stormed through the Caribbean and it is extremely unfortunate that Barbuda is right in its path," he said after flying over the devastated island.

"When you have an unprecedented storm like this that comes with such significant wind force this is like having a bomb literally thrown on a city."

Barbuda before.
Barbuda before. Alamy

Browne estimated that 95 per cent of buildings suffered damage. Many structures lost their roofs, and others were destroyed.

Barbuda is relatively flat with its highest point just 38m above sea level.

Browne said parts of the island are "literally underwater ... on a per capita basis the devastation on Barbuda is unprecedented".

Irma passed over Barbuda around 2am on Wednesday as a Category 5 hurricane.

The hurricane's power might be unprecedented, but its arrival over the island is not.

Every year, Barbuda expects an unwelcome visitor during its long hurricane season which starts in June and ends in November.

According to the island's website, barbudaful.net, the island is always "prepared for disruption on a large scale if we are in the path of a storm".

But September is the month Barbudans fear the most.

Codrington after Irma lashed it with winds of 150km an hour and unroofed and toppled many of the houses.
Codrington after Irma lashed it with winds of 150km an hour and unroofed and toppled many of the houses. ABS TV and Radio

"Statistically September has produced the worst and most dangerous storms for Barbuda with more direct hits here in this month as tropical waves come lower off the African coast towards us," the website says.

"There is a high level of unpredictability in tropical storm and hurricane movement, size and speed.

"The very high winds, dangerous seas, flooding and loss of essential services such as transport and electricity may last several weeks."

The last big hurricane in Barbuda was Luis in September 1995.

"Luis caused catastrophic damage and disruption to these islands for months afterwards," barbudaful.net said.

Image of Hurricane Irma over the Caribbean with the island of Barbuda in the storm’s eye.
Image of Hurricane Irma over the Caribbean with the island of Barbuda in the storm’s eye. Supplied

"So every year we watch the hurricane season closely and prepare by cleaning up outside, preparing to board up our houses if necessary and bring boats out the water."

But Hurricane Irma was the big one and it is hard to know how Barbuda recover from Irma, which Gaston Browne said had reduced the island "to rubble".

Barbuda had picked itself up after Luis, and although still a gentle destination not known for disco bars or night life, it was developing as a tourist destination.

A British colony between the 1600s and 1981, when it gained independence, it has one main village settlement, Codrington, with a few streets, a couple of shops and no traffic lights.

Only a few cars operate on Barbuda which had three main hotels and several guesthouses to house the few hundred visitors to the island in its seven-month holiday season.

Most holiday places have no swimming pool, spa, television or Wi-Fi.

The Atlantic side of the island was preferred for long walks collecting driftwood and shells.

The Caribbean Sea side was perfect for swimming and snorkelling to see turtles, stingrays, sharks, barracuda and many other varieties of tropical fish.

It was a place where you could relax, slow down, meet local people and make your own entertainment.

Ordinarily, Barbuda can be so lacking in rain - it has no "rainy season" as such - most households collected rainwater in a concrete cistern or tank for drinking and bathing.

The weather is very hot in summer but cooler in winter with Trade Winds breezes.

The locals are very welcoming to visitors to what was considered a true natural paradise.

Apart from the marine life, Barbuda had deer and wild boar, land turtles and guinea fowl.

Cattle, horses, donkeys, sheep and goats wandered about Codrington.

Several salt ponds on the island and the Codrington Lagoon were places of spectacular bird life, including the Magnificent Frigate Bird.

This rare bird, one of the largest in the world, had a thriving colony of approximately 2500.

It is uncertain how many Magnificent Frigate birds survived Hurricane Irma, and how the human population will endure in their destroyed home.

Prime Minister Browne said on Thursday the priority now was to encourage evacuations from Barbuda to Antigua as Hurricane Jose follows in Irma's wake.

News Corp Australia

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