Hurricane Beryl: Union Island becomes worst affected

After surviving the night as Hurricane Beryl ravaged her idyllic home on Union Island with fierce intensity, Katrina Coy was stunned by the devastation that lay before her. She reported that almost every building on the island, located off St Vincent and the Grenadines, was either destroyed or severely damaged.

Union Island is in a terrible state after Beryl passed. Almost the entire island is homeless,” Ms. Coy said in a video message. “There are hardly any buildings left standing. Houses are flattened, roads are blocked, and electricity poles are down in the streets.”

Sebastien Sailly, a fisherman and fishing guide, concurred. “Everything is lost. I have nowhere to live right now,” he said. A resident of Union since 1985, he recalled experiencing Hurricane Ivan in 2004 but noted that Hurricane Beryl was on a different scale. “It’s like a tornado has passed through here. Easily 90% of the island has been erased.”

The shock and fear were still evident in his voice. “I was sheltering with my wife and daughter, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure we would make it out at all.”

His cousin, Alizee, who runs a hotel with her family, described the terrifying experience as Beryl swept over their town. They had to barricade doors and windows with furniture to prevent the powerful winds and gusts from blowing them open. “The pressure was so intense you felt it in your ears. We could hear the roof tearing off and smashing into another building, windows breaking, flooding.” She added, “No one knew it would be this bad; everyone is traumatized.”

Sebastien, also an organic farmer and beekeeper, said his two farms and beehives were completely destroyed. However, the community’s immediate priority is shelter. People have been gathering wood and plastic sheeting to create temporary accommodation for their families. “And obviously, finding water and food is going to be tough,” he added.

Alizee Sailly noted that many other goods are urgently needed on Union Island, including tinned foods, powdered milk, sanitary products, first-aid kits, and tents, along with generators. With power and communications still down, she managed to send messages by connecting to the Starlink network launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines acknowledged the scale of the problem. In a morning address, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves expressed the shock felt across the Caribbean nation: “Hurricane Beryl – this dangerous and devastating hurricane – has left immense destruction, pain, and suffering across our nation.” He promised to address the post-hurricane priorities as quickly as possible.

On Union Island, however, there is skepticism about the government’s capacity to respond effectively. “I hope they can send us the military and the coastguard to help us. I have no idea if they’re able to rebuild the island, but I don’t think so,” said Sebastien. “This is going to take billions, a year or more, and will need international help.”

Katrina Coy, the director of the Union Island Environmental Alliance, also called on the Caribbean diaspora to assist in any way they could. “We’re in dire need of help. Emergency kits, food, evacuation, all of that is needed in this moment.”

Ms. Coy had been performing crucial work for Union Island’s water security, a vital resource for small island communities in the Caribbean. Tragically, her international colleagues reported that this work was lost to Hurricane Beryl.

Beryl made landfall on Monday as a category four hurricane, with sustained winds of 150mph (240km/h). Thousands of people remain without power, and many are in temporary shelters in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and St Lucia. Despite the chaos and widespread homelessness, Sebastien Sailly expressed gratitude that things weren’t even worse. “The most important thing is that we are still alive, not the material losses.” He added, “After witnessing the power of what we went through, today I was just pleased to see my neighbors were still here.”

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