By Dave Sewell
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2571

Hurricane Irma means storm chaos for the poorest as rich rulers refuse to help

This article is over 6 years, 8 months old
Issue 2571
Hurricane Irma moving across the Caribbean last week
Hurricane Irma moving across the Caribbean last week (Pic: Steven Kelley/Flickr)

Hurricane Irma blasted a trail of destruction through the Caribbean last week. At least 28 deaths had been reported by Monday, with ten countries hit.

The worst damage was in small island states and semi-colonies in the eastern Caribbean. They were bracing for Hurricane Jose to follow this week.

Barbuda was left “barely habitable”, its prime minister Gaston Browne said, with 95 percent of its building structures destroyed.

Six out of ten homes were destroyed in St Martin, an island split between French and Dutch rule.

French interior minister Gerard Collomb admitted that government buildings were “the four most solid buildings on the island”.

The “more rustic structures” where the poor live “have probably been completely or partially destroyed”.

US-ruled Puerto Rico and a number of British territories—the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos islands—were also hit.

Britain’s islands are a leftover of empire seized in the 17th century and are now used as tax havens and getaways for the super-rich. Inequality is high and poor black people, including many migrant workers, struggle on low wages.

They have borne the brunt of the storm—and Britain’s government has been shamefully slow to send aid. Even senior MPs said it had been “found wanting” in a letter to ministers.

Haiti was spared a repeat of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew last year, believed to have killed about 1,000 people.


But the damage from Irma’s winds has piled misery on top of people still struggling to rebuild from Matthew. Many farmers have lost whole crops two years running.

“This storm didn’t even leave one tree with food on it for us to eat,” farmer Artis Esperance told reporters. “This has taken food out of the mouths of my children.”

Irma was still rolling over Florida as Socialist Worker went to press. Tampa was expected to be hardest hit.

Some three million homes and businesses had been left without power, and parts of Miami flooded.

But the sting could be in the tail with storm surges expected to cause widespread flooding as the storm passes.

The state is the third most populous in the US—and much of it lies at or near sea-level.

It’s also home to resorts including president Donald Trump’s personal palace Mar-a-Lago.

But while millions of ordinary people will struggle to rebuild, he and other big landowners get insurance at a discount from the state.

An unnatural disaster

Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

For the first time since 2010 last week saw three hurricanes in the region at the same time—Irma, Jose and Katia.

Scientists believe that climate change is making more powerful storms more common.

A warmer climate means that sea levels are higher and storms are more likely to bring heavy rain.

Both increase the risk of severe flooding.

It’s criminal that people in colonies and former colonies of wealthy countries are abandoned to unsafe buildings.

There should be an emergency programme of large scale aid to help poor people prepare for the stormy decades ahead.

And those who decide to migrate to safer zones must be helped—not turned away.

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