Irma. The once-in-a-hundred-years-storm. It was terrifying watching her gain strength and size last week and, as her path became more clearly defined, it became a bit like watching a hideous multi-vehicle accident occurring. You know, absolutely, that there is nothing that you can do to affect the outcome and that it will only cause you distress to watch, and keep watching, but you can’t tear yourself away.
Endless iterations on the international news media started with the coverage forecasting the potential impact on our old home of the British Virgin Islands, and then her passage over the Territory, and then – after the storm, and most bizarrely – there was suddenly no mention of the BVI. There was extensive coverage of the islands that flank the BVI – Barbuda, St. Martin (St. Maarten), St. Barths, Anguilla, Puerto Rico, but it was as if the BVI didn’t exist. It was astonishing.
It made me think, though. Media houses, whether they’re the BBC, or Faux News, or anyone else, rely on information to produce reports. And in the absence of credible information most broadcasters – print, online, or TV – will choose to say little or nothing. The BVI was so badly slammed that it took the official information outlets almost 36 hours following Irma’s eye passing over the town to say anything. And what they did have to say came through the FCO. That gives you an idea of how bad the damage must have been.
As is so often the case these days, it has been social media – FaceBook in particular – that has been at the forefront of the information sharing. People, desperate to get the word out that they were alive and in need of help, must have intrepidly braved torrents of water, dodgy hillsides, fallen trees and power lines in search of a sketchy cell signal. By now, thousands of hours of video footage and zillions of images have been uploaded to the Internet, and the carnage is there for anyone who cares to look so see.
I was (am) glued to a fabulous resource that some bright spark created on FaceBook that allows anyone to see almost first-hand what’s going on in the BVI. I think I overdosed on it over the weekend, and managed to do nothing save live the misery vicariously, which did no-one any good.
We’ve been through our fair share of direct hits and close-calls with hurricanes, notably Hugo, Luis and Marilyn. And they taught us a lot. We know of the resilience and determination of people to survive and recover; that help comes from the least expected of sources, and that the people who speak loudest and command much media attention often fail to deliver the goods. We know that there are a few chancers, opportunists and downright tea-leaves who will make something off the back of other people’s distress. I’d like to think that’s what karma’s there for. But most of the time it takes a once-in-several-generations event to reshape and rebuild a society based on what’s most important (not the almighty dollar). As hard as life is for the residents of the BVI is today, they will emerge from this experience better, stronger and more resilient. And that’s no bad thing. But surely there’s a less painful way of evolving.