Tortola island in the Caribbean ‘like a war zone,’ says hurricane survivor

Clean up has started after Hurricane Irma blew through the island of Tortola. Photo by Joel Rouse/Ministry of Defense handout via Reuters

JoeAnne Harrigan, 50, huddled with nine members of her family in the stairwell of her mother’s home when Hurricane Irma smacked Tortola island in the Caribbean on Wednesday. For more than three hours, they took turns holding the door shut as the wind and rains whipped through the house.

“We heard the water gushing and things cracking and glass breaking. Our ears were popping. My mother was praying the ‘Hail Mary,’” she said.

At least 37 people died in the Caribbean from the massive hurricane that also caused widespread damage and power outages across Florida. Police confirmed five deaths on the British island of Tortola.

Hurricane Irma destroyed buildings on the Caribbean island of Tortola in this Sept. 11 photo by Capt. George Eatwell RM/British Ministry of Defense via Reuters

RELATED RESOURCE: Before and After: Satellite images show Irma’s Caribbean destruction – from NPR

A week later, most people have recovered from their shock, Harrigan said, and cleanup has started. The British military deployed troops to help with the cleanup and provide water and food to the residents.

Some homes no longer have roofs, and cars with windows punched out “look like they’ve been through a war zone,” she said. Part of the roof ripped off her mother’s house and none of the electrical appliances are working.

A store she helps her mother run that sells school uniforms, party supplies and baby items was flooded. Another one of their stores, near a cruise port, that sells leather bags and other goods to tourists was looted. “I guess it’s survival and that’s how people in third world countries survive, because right now this is what we are, we’re in a third world state with no running water and no electricity.”

Boats stacked up after Hurricane Irma hit Tortola, a British island in the Caribbean. Handout photo by Joel Rouse/Royal Navy/MoD/Crown Copyright 2017 via Reuters

Smoke lingered in the air from people burning garbage. Dumpsters overflowed with debris and rotting vegetables.

Supermarkets are open, and people waited in lines to buy food. Shipments come from the U.S. twice a week, and residents were waiting to see if the cargo ships would resume their schedule, said Harrigan.

“You just have to exercise patience. It’s just one day at a time, it’s all we can do right now.”

PHOTOS: What Hurricane Irma left behind in the Caribbean

British Army Commandos take part in recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma passed Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Photo by Joel Rouse/British Ministry of Defense via Reuters

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