NEW YORK—A Christmas storm that left at least 23 dead and 4 missing has led a group of Caribbean islands to search internally for help. The low-level hurricane, or trough, swept through the islands of Dominica, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, causing flooding, washing out bridges, and destroying roads and banana plantations, and heavily damaging a number of schools.
In New York City, where roughly 25,000 people from the islands live, the response has not been to send out a call for international aid for an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Rather, it has been to call for help directly from the Caribbean population for one simple reason: tourism.
Following a meeting last week of a consortium of 10 Caribbean islands called Caricom, the focus has been on getting the necessary aid of medical supplies, food, clothing, and water to those in need—without damaging the region’s image as an ideal winter getaway.
“We have been getting emails from people, asking if it was alright to go down there,” said Jeremiah Hyacinth, vice consul of the Consulate General of Saint Lucia in New York City. “We are telling them, ‘yes, go ahead, go—enjoy yourself.’”
But Hyacinth was quick to add that the focus on continuing to promote tourism is “deliberate” because of the tremendous value it brings to the local and regional economy.
Saint Lucia’s government is still assessing the financial damage that was wrought on the tiny 238-square-mile island, where six people were killed. One victim was a police officer who was crushed by a falling wall while trying to help someone else. The other person lived. Hyacinth and other Saint Lucia transplants in New York have been working hard to get donated supplies for the two hardest-hit regions: Canaries and Bexon.
On New Year’s Eve, Hyacinth and four others from his home country were hard at work in the basement of the Saint Lucia House in East Flatbush packing massive boxes of goods for people back home. Despite their somewhat grim task and its collision with the holiday season, spirits were high as Calypso music played and frequent laughter rang out over jokes among themselves.
“Love of country above self,” said Hyacinth about volunteering his time on New Year’s Eve.
All of them have some friends or family on the island of about 170,000 people who were impacted.
“A friend of mine, his entire plantation is gone,” said Gertrude Hippolyte, whose friend grew bananas on a 50-acre plot.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which by all accounts was hardest hit in terms of financial damage and human loss, there are eight dead and five still missing.
“It’s horrendous,” said Rhonda King, ambassador to the U.N. for St. Vincent and the Grenadines by phone Tuesday, adding that infrastructure damage alone will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Hundreds of people have been displaced.”
She said that though the numbers might seem small, the country’s total population of about 106,000 puts the displaced, who she said were largely in the rural areas, into perspective. King also echoed the sentiment that it should have “zero impact” on tourism.
“People can come and not see anything,” she said.