In the span of two short weeks, two major hurricanes seriously scarred the Caribbean region, scraping entire islands clean and leaving their citizens scrambling to recover. These record-breaking storms killed dozens, flooded hundreds of acres and rendered thousands homeless.
The first Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma, barreled through the northern part of the Caribbean with unprecedented strength, breaking meteorological records and leaving a trail of destruction stretching hundreds of miles in its wake. Soon after Irma sputtered to a stop over the southeastern US, Hurricane Maria increased from a category 1 to a Category 5 storm in a mere 48 hours, following Irma's path closely and threatening islands still reeling from that hurricane's might.
The islands most strongly affected by Irma included Anguilla, Barbuda, Cuba, Puerto Rico, St-Barthélemy, St-Martin & Sint Maarten, Turks & Caicos, and the US and British Virgin Islands. The Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic also fielded some damage. Maria seemed to pass over the places that Irma spared, directly hitting Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico, and causing damage in Martinique, Montserrat, the Dominican Republic and Turks & Caicos.
A member of the Dutch Royal Navy distributes supplies in Sint Maarten © GERBEN VAN ES / AFP / Getty Images
Since the rains dispersed and the wind calmed, the scale of Irma and Maria's impact has become increasingly clear, and some island nations will need months – if not years – to make repairs. For a region that relies heavily on tourism, this scenario is precarious; if you've booked a trip to these destinations in the coming months, these countries will need your business, but check on developments, access and restrictions before making your travel decisions. For the time being, these communities need outside help (primarily in the form of monetary aid), and we’ve compiled a list of resources to help support relief efforts across the region.
General aid funds
Several organizations have established general funds to be distributed among the affected islands.
GlobalGiving is a worldwide crowd-funding network that brings together nonprofits and donors across the globe. Also a nonprofit company, Global Giving frequently hosts their own campaigns and matches donations. They are currently hosting an Irma relief campaign and a general hurricane relief fund.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, an organization dedicated to increasing donor effectiveness by focusing on long-term disaster relief, has also organized an Irma relief fund.
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) coordinates with governments across the region to mobilize aid and manage natural disaster relief efforts. Their website has a link to financial details related to their Emergency Assistance Fund.
Volunteers in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, greet each other as they gather supplies to be sent to neighboring St Thomas and St John © Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe / Getty Images
The Caribbean Tourism Organization is a tourism development agency that works with both member countries and private tourism companies. The organization hosts a storm watch center and regularly collects money for the CTO Relief Fund designed to assist countries after hurricanes. They have since organized an 2017 hurricane season relief fund.
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association works with hotels, hotel associations and private members across the region. In partnership with Tourism Cares, the CHTA has established the Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund, which will be directed towards restoring tourism infrastructure including visitors centers, beaches and monuments.
The Hispanic Federation is a nonprofit organization that provides support to Hispanic families and Latino institutions through a variety of avenues including education, economic empowerment and health services. HF has created their Unidos campaign to provide support to those affected by Hurricane Maria and the Mexico City earthquake, which occurred in the same time period.
Helping specific islands
At only 35 square miles in area, Anguilla was flattened by Irma’s 185 mph winds, with CDEMA reporting damage to 90% of government and business buildings. The Anguilla Progressive Association of New York (APANY), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the Anguilla diaspora, is working with the government of Anguilla to raise funds for relief efforts.
While Antigua was spared from the worst damage, the tiny island of Barbuda was pummeled by Irma's Category 5 winds. 95% of Barbuda’s buildings were damaged or destroyed, and the majority of its population has been evacuated to its sister island. Visit the Barbuda Post-Irma Relief Facebook page to keep track of operations on the ground and to learn how to help on the local level. The International Community Foundation and the Waitt Institute & Waitt Foundation, an organization normally dedicated to protecting reefs and marine life in the area, have partnered to host a Barbuda recovery fund; the Waitt Foundation will be matching gifts to the trust.
Cuba was the last island to face Irma's wrath before the storm turned toward Florida, with the hurricane making landfall along the country's northern coast. Irma caused serious flooding and wind damage across northern parts of Cuba, devastating the keys and numerous coastal towns and causing flooding and building collapses in Havana. The Cuban Foreign Ministry has provided bank codes to a humanitarian aid account via Twitter, but US-based givers should note that any donations violate the financial embargo and should seek out other donation options among global aid organizations.
People clean the streets of Marigot on St-Martin island © MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images
The small, mountainous island of Dominica was directly hit by Maria when the storm was at its strongest, facing Category 5 winds that gutted residences and businesses across the country; in the hours following the storm's impact, Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit confirmed that the damage was widespread and catastrophic. The Dominica-American Relief & Development Association was developed by Dominicans in the New York area following Hurricane David in 1979 with the aim to aid hurricane recovery efforts; today DARDA has established a fund to support those affected by Maria.
Most of Haiti was spared from Irma’s force, but farming communities along the north coast faced serious flooding that destroyed crops and roadways. Convoy of Hope is leading some relief efforts in the area by providing food assistance.
While the majority of Puerto Rico managed to dodge Irma, the island was virtually devastated by Maria, the worst storm to make landfall on the island in 89 years. The hurricane dumped as much as 40 inches of water on some parts of the island, causing massive flooding that has left the island without power or drinking water, a situation that could go on for months. ConPRmetidos, a non-profit organization dedicated to social and economic development in Puerto Rican communities, has partnered with the Professional Insurance Agents of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean (PIA) to send money to the areas affected by both hurricanes. United for Puerto Rico, a volunteer-run nonprofit developed by First Lady Beatriz Rossell's office, is raising funds to rebuild homes, and Taller Salud is collecting financial support to provide immediate relief items and recovery effort for low-income communities of color.
St-Martin & Sint Maarten
The split island nations of St-Martin & Sint Maarten were left devastated following Irma, with government officials reporting destruction of 95% of the island’s infrastructure. The SXM Festival, an electronic music festival held on the island every spring, has organized a relief fund that has been verified by Rolando Brison, Director of the Sint Maarten Tourism Bureau.
The U.S. Army National Guard prepares a shipment of supplies for residents in the US Virgin Islands © Army Sgt. Priscilla Desormeaux / Getty Images
The British Virgin Islands faced the wrath of Irma head on; across the island chain, trees were stripped of their greenery while homes and businesses were flattened, leaving BVI in pieces. Visit bvirelief.com to find a list of donation options benefiting the islands, along with compiled news sources, photo galleries, and resources for residents affected by the storm. Virgin Unite, headed up by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, is hosting a fundraiser for destroyed BVI communities.
St Thomas and St John bore the brunt of the Irma's damage in the US Virgin Islands, and while the southernmost island St Croix managed to escape the first hurricane, it did not escape the second. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands works with government agencies to provide support for immediate relief and long-term recovery. Created in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, the St. John Rescue is a local volunteer, non-profit organization that provides emergency rescue services in USVI. You can donate to their efforts here. Former NBA player Tim Duncan, who hails from USVI, has also organized a relief fund, promising to match donations up to $1 million.
For discussion concerning Caribbean travel following the hurricanes, head to Lonely Planet's Thorntree forum.