Described as ‘apocalyptic’ by the senator of St Barths, Michel Magras, Hurricane Irma has left communities across the Caribbean devastated. The most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, with winds of 185mph, has claimed the lives of at least nine people and left a trail of destruction in its wake as it advances towards the US mainland.
Local officials on St Martin have reported that Irma has destroyed 95% of the French part of the island, while in neighboring Barbuda, 90% of the island’s structures have been lost and more than half the population are now homeless. Many across the region are without power, including more than half of Puerto Rico’s three million residents, others are without water, and areas of St Barths are still submerged.
Islands still at risk from the category five hurricane include the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, Cuba and the Bahamas, with current projections suggesting that Irma could reach Florida by Sunday.
As disaster relief efforts get underway, there are many ways that we can help, but probably the most effective and efficient is to donate what you can to one of the organizations on the ground.
Habitat for Humanity
This global non-profit is already working with its local offices in Irma's path. The housing organization conducts rapid assessments of storm damage and helps clean out homes damaged by winds and flood waters. Donate here.
The Red Cross
The American Red Cross and Red Cross Societies across the Caribbean are mobilizing volunteers and relief supplies in response to the crisis. Donate here.
The organization’s emergency responders, including a dedicated team of 63 in Haiti, are assisting with the relief effort, with a focus on water and hygiene, money and support to help people recover their agriculture and incomes. Donate here.
UNICEF has pre-positioned emergency supplies of drinking water, non-perishable food and medicines, ready for rapid response to the worst affected communities. Donate here.
Save the Children
Save the Children has teams on the ground to respond immediately as required, and in particular to protect vulnerable children. Donate here.
If you are able to contribute to one of these organizations, you may be able to get your donation doubled. Many employers operate gift matching programs, under which they will double any donations made to non-profits in support of crises such as Hurricane Irma. Also, large donors and certain companies may pledge to match donations made to specific non-profits.
For those who may find themselves in Irma’s path, here are some health and safety tips. Please feel free to copy and share.
1. Start running your ice makers now and bagging the ice in freezer bags. Fill as much space in between your freezer items as you can.
2. Freeze regular tap water for pets, cleaning or drinking in tupperware-type containers. Remeber to leave a small bit of space between the top of the water and the lids so the ice expands but doesn't crack the container.
3. Start using up your perishables to make more room for ice in the freezer.
4. Fill up all vehicles and check tires and oil.
5. Cash from ATM, at least enough to get you through tolls and gas out of town. Call your bank if you plan on leaving the state so they don't freeze your card for out-of-area "suspicious" transactions.
6. All important documents screenshot and send to your email. Take originals in sealed bags or plastic bins.
7. Pet and livestock food and supplies. Vet records in case you need to shelter then at a storm-safe facility.
8. Evacuation plans and share with family members so they know where you're headed.
9. Consider putting heirlooms and photos in plastic bins in a high place, second floor, or safe room if you don't plan on taking them with you.
10. Secure all firearms and ammunition properly.
11. Old rags and beach towels on your windowsills. Even with the best windows and shutters, water seeping from the wind pressure happens. A few damp towels are better than soaked drywall or floors!
12. Shutter windows and doors and bring everything outside into your garage or house now. Do not wait until the day before. Better to get it done early and relax than wait until its too late, especially if you are mandatory personnel (hospital employee or first responder).
13. If you don't already have your hurricane supplies, you might want to get them now. Shelves are already empty in most places.
14. Your washing machine makes a great cooler. Fill with ice and drinks/food.
15. Charge your cell phones. Get some external battery chargers and charge those too. Or a hand crank charger.
16. Hand crank weather radios are very helpful after the power goes out to stay informed. (And for music to try and drown out the sounds of the storm).
17. Buy glow sticks at the dollar store they will light up a room for hours.