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Northern Ireland people's fears for relatives caught in path of Hurricane Irma


Residents walk through the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma

Residents walk through the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma

A subsided road and flooded houses in Gustavia on Saint-Barthelemy

A subsided road and flooded houses in Gustavia on Saint-Barthelemy

BBC NI’s Noel Thompson, whose brother Stephen’s home is on St Martin

BBC NI’s Noel Thompson, whose brother Stephen’s home is on St Martin


Residents walk through the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma

Northern Ireland people with family links to the Caribbean have told of their horror in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma.

With wind speeds of up to 185mph, the category five super-storm has destroyed countless buildings and killed at least 13 people so far.

The island of Barbuda is said to be "barely habitable", while officials say the island of St Martin has been almost destroyed.

Nattassa Latcham is from the eastern islands of Antigua and Barbuda, but now lives in Northern Ireland working for the African and Caribbean Support Organisation Society NI (ACSONI).

"Things are still really bad back home, and the second Hurricane (Jose) should be there by Friday," she said. She added that attempts to evacuate Barbuda were proving almost impossible, with the airport badly damaged and extremely rough seas.

Most of her own family and friends are on Antigua. "There's been some structural damage but no loss of life," she added.

"But we can't really celebrate that because such devastation has happened on Barbuda. We can't even speak to people there as the cell towers are down, there's no electric or running water, so they're totally cut off."

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On St Martin, west of Barbuda, BBC NI Good Morning Ulster presenter Noel Thompson's brother Stephen is among the 80,000 inhabitants.

"His house is right on the coast, which meant it was one of the first to be affected by Irma yesterday," the broadcaster said.

"He took all the precautions with the house, like hurricane shutters, and by about 7am local time yesterday he said there was frighteningly loud winds.

"He said the only good thing about it was that it was short, but his roof is gone, along with the hurricane shutters.

"About an hour after the hurricane torrential rain started, so they were sitting in the house when this happened."

"There's about five feet of water on the roads around the town as well as a curfew in place for safety reasons.

"He's only got to speak to his two nearest neighbours in the last 24 hours. There's been massive devastation, whole warehouses have disappeared. There's also a beautiful marina there with boats just piled on top of one another like toys.

"My brother's just exhausted. For two days he was trying to move everything in his house downstairs to the safer area, and living through it is frightening.

"He has a business there too which he can't get any information about. It's a protected old Dutch building, which mightn't be there anymore."

Dr Christopher Stange is Northern Ireland consul for the south eastern Caribbean islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines. "This is unprecedented," he said.

"The hurricane went through Barbuda, which is above us, so St Vincent has had a lot of rain but nothing compared to the infrastructure damage in other places.

"Last week in Texas there was billions of dollars of damage, but what people don't realise is that this is a reality we deal with every year.

"For developing countries, you can actually lose half of the economy overnight. We have safety programmes in place but it's what comes afterwards, rebuilding power lines and finding people places to live.

"The charities usually step in right away like the Red Cross. The problem is that four countries have been hit and the hurricane is still going towards the Dominican Republic and Haiti."

He added: "Across all the Carribean islands our economy is based on tourism and agriculture, those will both be completely destroyed."

Elsewhere, in Gainesville in Florida, 29-year-old dance teacher Bridget Madden from Londonderry was yesterday bracing for the impact of Irma as the Category 5 weather front makes for the US coast.

"It's frightening," she said.

"We have no idea what damage the hurricane will cause.

"All we can do is prepare and wait."

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