Irma’s Wrath across the Caribbean: Updates & How You Can Help

The scene in a supermarket in Santo Domingo on Wednesday, the night before Irma was scheduled to strike the DR. Stores stayed open until 12am.

It has been a sad beginning to the month of September. This month is officially known as the most active in the June to end of October hurricane season for the Caribbean. Regardless, I have lived and spent many summers in the region to know well enough that the chances of a destructive hurricane hitting–of category 1 or 5–are super slim.

And then it happens. Hurricane Irma’s destructive path across the Caribbean region’s most popular destinations is heartbreaking. Read this article on The Guardian with a quick initial recap on the state of the various islands post-Irma.

1. Where to find official updates 

As media, I receive daily press releases on the current state of each island. I will share as much as I can, or you are free to inbox me for info. Your best bet, however, is to check daily updates on the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Storm Watch Center web page, with info per island as the news come

in from their respective governments on the ground.

When I do receive helpful updates from the CTO that aren’t uploaded yet, I am happy to share here (will update the page frequently).

The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association is also providing excellent daily updates on their Hurricane Information Hub and on Facebook.

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Recent updates from the islands:

An audio clip that just came in from Turks & Caicos’ Director of Tourism: http://bit.ly/2wP96Wt

Update 9/8 – St. Maarten: An audio interview with St. Maarten‘s Director of Tourism – hoping to get airport back up and running in a week or so: https://soundcloud.com/user-255201979/st-maarten-hurricane-irma-update

Update 9/8 – Puerto Rico (press release excerpt): ” While the assessment of impact across the island continues, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s preliminary report shows that major tourism infrastructure and attractions are operational and the island can continue to welcome new visitors. While power outages are present throughout the Island, many hotels, as well as essential services on the island such as hospitals, are operational due to generators and the majority of hotels throughout mainland Puerto Rico are ready to welcome new guests. “

Update 9/9 – Anguilla: The island got hit very hard. For instance, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and businesses such as CuisinArt, and Blanchard’s were badly damaged, while Dune Preserve was completely demolished. You can find regular updates on the Anguilla Beaches blog, posting daily from the ground.

Update 9/9 – US Virgin Islands:  St. Thomas and St. John suffered devastating damage. You can read updates on the Virgin Islands Consortium blog, including this moving piece on the aftermath, with comments from USVI Governor Mapp.

2. Where to donate

  • You can already donate to the CTO Hurricane Relief Fund, which supports the CTO’s member islands. Any amount helps.

  • Update 9/9: A fundraiser has been set up for Anguilla by the Anguilla Beaches website owners. The monies will be audited by a professional accountant and handed to the Anguilla Red Cross for distribution to those most in need, and for emergency supplies. On that same page, you will find additional links that have been set up for individual business donations.

  • Update 9/10: The American University of Antigua is raising funds to send directly to Barbuda for emergency relief. AUA promises to  match every donation to the fund.

As soon as I have additional vetted donation links – for the Dominican Republic (for those less fortunate who lost their homes to flooding), and our neighbors, I will update this page.

3. Where to visit

More than ever, the Caribbean needs your travel time and dollars. Keep in mind that many islands sustained minimal damage and are back to normal, with hotels that are safe or cleaning up, and with airports open again for commercial flights.

Ready to welcome you again are Antigua, the Dominican Republic, St. Croix, Turks & Caicos, Bahamas (Nassau), Guadeloupe Islands, Martinique, St. Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago, Montserrat, and Dominica.

Keep an eye on the weather when planning a trip from now through October, but don’t let that stop you from traveling. There’s nothing better than supporting with your presence, tourism dollars, and good cheer.

I was in the DR when Irma hit. This was my first near-hurricane experience–preparing for it, calming nerves, figuring out how to protect my apartment in the Dominican Republic, and more details that I’d never had to consider in the past despite my many experiences living in the region. This time, it was hitting close to home. I learned so much from the entire thing, particularly from Dominicans–whether friends or strangers I chatted with in the supermarkets at the last hour–who continue to amaze me with their positive attitude toward life and any adversity that comes their way. More on my thoughts in an upcoming recap video.

Still, I was blessed to have a safe location in the capital city of Santo Domingo, on the south coast of the DR, while Irma struck harder up north. The DR’s Centro de Emergencias was also excellent with updates, holding hourly press conferences to monitor and update the population on the approach of Irma. They evacuated thousands, including the more vulnerable who live by the river.

The south coastline was also on red alert, along with the entire shore of the DR. Electricity disappeared in my neighborhood around 2pm and for most of the day, we had heavy rains and gusty winds. But not as much as areas such as Nagua, Samana, Puerto Plata, and Santiago.

In the end, the DR experienced no mass destruction compared to our neighbors, and felt the edges of a powerful hurricane raging far enough off its north coast.

Here is a news clip of Cabarete beach this morning, as businesses and the community begin cleaning up to get back to normal:

Prayers go to our Caribbean neighbors Barbuda, St. Maarten/St Martin, Turks & Caicos, the BVIs, and Puerto Rico, for their devastating losses and suffering.

Please stay tuned to this page–bookmark it, as I will be updating with additional sources of assistance.

It’s tough to see a region and population highly dependent on tourism go through this. Let’s help them get back on their feet. 

In the meantime, keeping all our friends in Florida in our prayers as Irma makes her last stop.

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller. Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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