Hurricane Irma — the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record — unleashed catastrophic rain, wind, and storm surges across the Caribbean, leaving a trail of devastation from Barbuda to Cuba. Here, USAID shares an inside look at their disaster relief efforts.
USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance officially activated a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) on September 7, 2017 as Hurricane Irma barreled across the Caribbean. USAID had been actively monitoring the storm as it formed in the Atlantic, and members of the DART pre-deployed to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and The Bahamas ahead of Irma making landfall.
We also activated locally-based disaster specialists living in countries along Irma’s path. This enabled the DART to coordinate with local authorities and humanitarian organizations on the ground before the storm hit and to begin assessing the damage as soon as conditions allowed.
However, just as the DART’s disaster response efforts were getting underway, Mother Nature had other plans. Hurricane Jose was tracking closer to the very same islands that were hit by Irma just a few days before, unleashing heavy rain and wind and bringing relief efforts on some islands to a temporary standstill.
Hurricane Jose veered back out to sea on September 10 without inflicting too much damage, allowing relief operations to quickly resume. By then, the full scope of Hurricane Irma’s devastation was becoming clear. The Category 5 storm had killed dozens of people and left tens of thousands in need of shelter, water, and medical care across the region. In response, the DART re-positioned to the hardest-hit areas, sending teams to Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin, and The Bahamas.
USAID’s teams immediately got to work conducting damage assessments and coordinating with local emergency response officials and our partners to deliver assistance to affected communities.
USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance also airlifted critical relief supplies to Antigua and The Bahamas from our warehouse in Miami, Florida.
The relief supplies — which included emergency shelter materials, blankets, hygiene kits, household items, and water containers — were handed over to national emergency response officials to be distributed to families impacted by Hurricane Irma. A portion of the supplies will also be stockpiled in the Caribbean for future storms.
Meanwhile on the hard-hit island of St. Martin, USAID has been working with the U.S. Department of Defense to airlift relief supplies and personnel and to help restore access to safe drinking water. USAID requested the U.S. military’s unique capabilities to support its humanitarian response after Hurricane Irma destroyed nearly all of St. Martin’s infrastructure. As a result, U.S. Southern Command stood up Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands, and began installing portable water treatment units at strategic locations around the island.
Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma hit, the Caribbean was bracing for more extreme weather as Hurricane Maria — the fourth major Atlantic hurricane this year — reached the battered region. Maria, which strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in just 24 hours, made landfall over Dominica on September 18.
USAID’s regional Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) remains activated in the Caribbean and is closely coordinating storm preparations and response plans with local authorities and our partners. The DART is preparing for potential disruptions to ongoing relief efforts but will continue its lifesaving operations as long as conditions allow.
Read more about USAID’s Caribbean Hurricanes response here.
Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in this Generation publication on Medium.com.