By Samuel Sukhnandan
Several Guyanese living on some of the islands that have been ravaged by Hurricane Irma have expressed interest in returning home, while others prefer to remain and assist with the rebuilding efforts in their adopted homes, Civil Defence Commission (CDC) Director General, Colonel (retired) Chabilall Ramsarup, has said.
Ramsarup told this media group on Monday that a team consisting of Citizenship Minister Winston Felix, two members of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, one from the CDC, and a public relations official from the Office of the Prime Minister visited Antigua, St Maarten and Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Arrangements were put in place by Caribbean Airlines to evacuate those who wish to return home. Caribbean Airlines offered free evacuation flights, for one day only, from Princess Julianna International Airport in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten to Piarco International Airport in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Last week, Guyanese nationals living on the BVI have been encouraged to return home. A senior Government official on that island was reported as encouraging non-nationals, including Guyanese, to leave the British Overseas Territory. This call was made even as several Guyanese and Vincentians were among other non-BVI nationals being housed in a centre partially destroyed by the hurricane.
The Department of Public Information (DPI) has reported that a number of Guyanese had opted to join the flight. Charter flights are still operational, while commercial flights have been temporarily halted.
Meanwhile, the CDC Director General told this publication also that an aircraft with 2900 pounds of relief supplies was sent to Antigua, and that a number of containers are being prepared to be sent there also. Relief supplies such as food, medicine and pharmaceuticals are part of the items to be shipped.
While the Guyanese team to Antigua, St Maarten and Tortola was due to return on Monday, members were unable to do so, because all airports were closed to facilitate the passage of another hurricane. In the meantime, the team, he said, will continue to monitor the situation and see how best they can assist Guyanese who are in dire need of emergency items for themselves and their families.
Ramsarup also explained that the local private sector had a consultation to determine how they could assist. He said there have been favourable responses coming from the body representing that grouping — the Private Sector Commission. Relief supplies have been donated for shipment to the affected islands.
Meanwhile, although DPI reported on September 16 that Guyanese living on St. Maarten had expressed gratitude to the Government for sending in the needs assessment team, a Guyanese living on that island, named Carshena Gordon, said in a social media post that she was not informed of the meeting with the Guyanese team.
“I’m one of the few who are able to connect to social media, and I was not aware of any meeting. Every day I check social media, and only read that an assessment team was being put together. Why wasn’t there any post with date and time of meeting?” she enquired.
Gordon also inquired why people only heard of the meeting after it was held, and what were the findings. “Nobody asked me ‘jack squat’; so are you guessing my needs and those of others to send what y’all want, when y’all want?” she further questioned.
The Guyanese national feels that relief being assembled will be distributed to a selected few. She also used the opportunity in that social media post to thank the Governments of St Maarten and Dominica for food and water. “If I had to depend on my own I’d be dead by now…Anytime I hear relief from Guyana share and I’m not informed I’m writing the Minister.”
Although rebuilding efforts have commenced in some islands, a lack of communication still remains a major issue that the regional response effort faces.
While there is a basic framework of communication, such as Honorary Consuls, Ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives, the storm has ravaged communications infrastructure, especially in places like St Maarten, St Barts and Barbuda.
Hurricane Irma was one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. It has completely devastated Barbuda, and affected jurisdictions such as St Maarten, St Barts, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and the British Virgin Islands.