Hurricane Irma: your questions answered
8 September 2017
What has happened?
Hurricane Irma is continuing to tear a deadly path through the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction as it moves towards the Florida coast.
In Puerto Plata, a province in northern Dominican Republic, our sister agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working with the local Caritas network to assess the situation and help people affected by the hurricane.
Francisco Colon, the Director of Caritas Puerto Plata, sent this eyewitness report:
“The centre of the storm was about 75 miles east-northeast of Puerto Plata at that time. There was rain and strong winds”, said Colon. “Electricity was already down in some areas and communication intermittent, and by mid-day, some 10,000 people were bracing for the storm in shelters in Puerto Plata.”
Hurricane Irma has been described as one of the most powerful Atlantic Hurricanes the National Hurricane Centre has ever recorded outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Classified as a Category 5 storm, it sustained wind speeds of up to 180mph, followed by storm surges and torrential rains.
The National Hurricane Centre has warned that northern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic could receive storm surges causing life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
What kind of damage can a storm of this size do?
CAFOD’s Senior Global Emergency Response Officer, Robert Cruikshank, spent several months in Haiti working with our local Caritas aid workers responding to the earthquake of 2010 and returned last year to support with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
He said: “A storm of this size will certainly destroy agricultural livelihoods and damage homes. And in its wake it will also destroy an already fragile sanitation system; damaging wells, springs and latrines, increasing the likelihood of waterborne diseases.”
How are local Caritas aid agencies responding?
Our sister agency, CRS, has a long history of working in the region and are working around the clock with local Caritas agencies in Dominican Republic and Haiti; getting clean water and sanitation, food, hygiene kits, and tarpaulins to the worst affected communities.
An emergency team is in Cap-Haitien, in the north of the island, working with the government to alert residents and relocate the most vulnerable families. They are also assessing the damage caused by Irma and organising distributions of pre-positioned relief supplies including tarps, shelter repair kits, and hygiene and kitchen kits.
In the Dominican Republic
An emergency team are focusing on communities in low-lying areas living in wooden, flimsy houses. They are organising transport to shelters and providing food.
What about the other storms heading for the Caribbean?
A new threat has emerged with Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Katia. Jose is following in Irma's path, on track towards the Leeward islands; and Hurricane Katia is moving towards the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, and could make landfall in eastern Mexico.
Is Climate Change the cause of these powerful Hurricanes?
While the evidence isn’t clear to link global warming with hurricanes, the World Meteorological Society has said that climate change is likely to have made the rainfall that accompanies events like Hurricane Irma much worse. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said a warmer climate will increase the risk of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events.
Will CAFOD and its local partners be responding in some of the smaller Islands?
The small island of Barbuda took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma and officials there said many buildings were destroyed. Similar accounts came from St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands. The storm stayed offshore of Puerto Rico but winds still reached hurricane force and caused widespread damage and power outages.
CAFOD is a member of the Caritas Internationalis confederation – a network of over 160 Caritas aid agencies. The Caribbean Caritas agencies affected by Hurricane Irma are on the ground and doing rapid assessments on the impact of the storm, identifying the communities most in need.
What can I do to help?
Please continue to keep the people of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and all those affected by Hurricane Irma in your thoughts and prayers.