As has been so clearly shown by Hurricane Harvey, the devastation that hurricanes (in particular higher category hurricanes) can cause cannot be overstated. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey, as here in the British Virgin Islands we brace ourselves for Hurricane Irma, which has now been strengthened to Category 5, the highest possible on the scale.
Generally speaking, we have one hurricane in the British Virgin Islands around every 10 years. Fortunately, most of them drift north of us, but this one is coming straight for us, with the eye of the storm heading straight for Necker, Moskito Island and Virgin Gorda. Obviously things can change – hopefully they do, as a category five hurricane hasn’t hit the BVI full on before.
On Necker Island we have constructed really strong buildings (with hurricane blinds) that should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well, though with a Category 5 hurricane almost nothing can withstand it. We had some lovely guests staying on Necker Island who have cut their trip short for safety reasons, and another group of guests have also postponed. I will be on Necker alongside our team, as I have been on the three times we have had hurricanes over the past 30 years.
Our main concern is with the local people of the BVI. For anyone who could be affected by the hurricane, please make sure you are as prepared as possible. In the past, many British Virgin Islanders have shrugged off hurricanes, stayed at home and not gone to shelters. This time the BVI Government and the BVI Tourist board have been very active and providing advice to the local population. With the likelihood of a Category 5 hurricane, it is really important people go to hurricane shelters if possible (such as the Methodist Church and public community centres in Virgin Gorda). Have a plan for where you can stay, have a go-bag with disaster supplies, and have a family emergency communication plan. Keep informed of the latest developments (we have been getting updates from the Government and BVI Tourist Board) and stay safe. Whatever happens, keep inside, away from the ocean and away from flying debris.
I am also concerned for the wonderful wildlife of the BVI, not least on Necker and Moskito, where many flamingos, lemurs, scarlet ibis and other stunning species live. Hopefully all people and animals can keep out of harm’s way in the coming days.
It may sound strange, but I consider hurricanes one of the wonders of the natural world. Two powerful hurricanes, Earl and Otto, hit the BVI in 2010 and caused extensive damage. I beheld nature at its most ferocious. The power of the sea breaking over the cliff tops, the eerie hush when you are in the eye of the hurricane and then the roar of the winds, the lightning and the rain.
Man-made climate change is a key factor in the increasing intensity of these hurricanes, as many experts have suggested. The damage caused by Harvey all over Texas is a tragic and costly reminder that our climate is changing and that we are not doing enough to tackle this enormous challenge. If Irma is any indication, we must brace ourselves for more of these catastrophic weather events. How much cheaper and smarter to support the Paris Agreement and move to clean energy?
Regardless, the number one priority in a situation like this is for everybody to keep safe. Head over to www.ready.gov/hurricanes for more hurricane preparedness information, and to www.bvi.gov.vg and the BVI Tourist Board for local updates.