Antigua and Barbuda was the first country to greet Hurricane Irma’s more than 185-mile-per-hour winds - the fiercest Atlantic storm ever recorded. Speaking from the capital of St. John’s on Antigua island, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the destruction the island of Barbuda suffered is also historic. Only one person died on Barbuda, but Browne noted the place is now a “ghost town.”
“For the first time in 300 years, Barbuda is uninhabited," Browne told WLRN.
"The island has been totally evacuated. Ninety-five percent of the buildings were damaged. The cost of the damage could probably get up to about $250 million. Barbuda today is a mangled wreck."
But Browne said Barbuda is also emblematic of Irma’s larger devastation in the Caribbean, where as many as 50 people were killed. The U.N. estimates damage in the region, from the Leeward Islands to Cuba, at $10 billion.
Since the Caribbean basin matters to the global tourism industry, Browne said the international community can’t afford to ignore it this time.
“It is clear that there has to be some international support for these islands," Browne argued.
"This is an absolute need. Based on the magnitude of the resources that are required to rebuild, we definitely need friendly governments like the United States to assist. So we’re making an international call.”
Browne also called on industrialized nations to consider how stronger hurricanes resulting from global warming are impacting the Caribbean - a situation Browne calls "the new normal" for islands like his.
"The science is very clear," he said. "In the Caribbean we're suffering the consequences of what the world's biggest polluters do."
Browne said he hopes Barbuda can be safe to inhabit again by the end of the year.