September 10, 2017
(Updated 9:30 p.m. EDT) -- As Hurricane Irma steamrolls toward Florida, the Caribbean islands that already have been hit by the storm are digging out and assessing the damage to infrastructure.
Some popular cruise ports, such as Barbados and St. Kitts, seemed relatively spared by the Category 5 hurricane (now Category 2), while others -- particularly the dual nationality island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, as well as the British Virgin Islands and two of the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas and St. John -- have sustained extensive damage. According to news reports, at least 18 people have died: nine in French territories, one person in Anguilla, a child in Barbuda. three in Puerto Rico and four in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It's too early to speculate how soon cruise ships will return to Eastern Caribbean islands. Not only is Irma still moving through the Atlantic Ocean, with the islands of the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos as possible targets, but Hurricane Jose also is heading toward the Caribbean's Leeward islands.
"We have teams on the ground in each of these countries, as well as others on standby to help assess the situation, but our first priority is to make sure everyone is safe," said Roger Frizzell, senior vice president & chief communications officer at Carnival Corporation.
Here's what we know so far about the post-Irma state of popular Caribbean cruise ports.
Cruise Critic will continue to update as information comes in from news reports and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), which has been updating the media with statements from its member islands.
Cruise Port: Bridgetown
While Barbados was spared by Hurricane Irma, some residents on the island did receive damage to their homes from Tropical Storm Harvey. The island has become the hub for a U.N. humanitarian team, which will work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency to help hurricane victims.
Cruise Port: St. John's
Although it seemed to lie directly in Irma's path, Antigua was spared the worst of the storm, according to the local government. There were no deaths, and most residential, businesses and hotels remain unscathed, with main roads already cleared of debris. The airport reopened Thursday afternoon.
Said Prime Minister Gaston Browne in a statement released by the CTO: "The drains, gutters and reservoirs that were cleared in advanced ensured that the island experienced no flooding, hence eliminating the possibility of water-born disease."
Cruise Port: Low Bay Beach
Only a handful of small cruise ships stop at tiny Barbuda, which is twinned with Antigua; most cruise passengers who visit do so by shore excursion. Unfortunately, this tiny island of 1,800 residents suffered the brunt of Irma, with about 90 percent of its buildings damaged, Browne said. On Friday, 120,000 pounds of hurricane relief for Barbuda were flown into Antigua. Also Friday, the prime minister issued a mandatory evacuation of Barbuda in anticipation of Hurricane Jose's arrival. TMZ is reporting that the actor Robert De Niro, who is building a luxury resort in Barbuda, will help with rebuilding efforts.
Cruise Port: Basseterre
The eye of Irma passed north of St. Kitts on Wednesday morning. Little damage occurred on the island and the airport opened Thursday, according to a CTO release, and the shops in Port Zante are open.
Cruise Port: Charlestown
Under the same government as St. Kitts but less of a cruise destination because of its size, Nevis was also spared damage from Irma. Electricity has been restored and the tourism offices reopened Thursday, according to the CTO. Nevis' airport has also reopened.
St. Maarten/St. Martin
Cruise Port: Philipsburg (St. Maarten); Marigot (St. Martin)
One of the Caribbean's most popular cruise ports, the dual nationality island of St. Maarten and St. Martin suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, and the damage appears to be immense.
The Dutch Prime Minister said the storm caused "enormous devastation" to the island, cutting off electricity, gas and most communications. The island's famous airport, where cruise passengers and tourists watch the low-flying planes come in, has been damaged, but the landing strips remain intact. The airport had partially reopened to allow relief supplies to be flown in and travelers to be evacuated, but it has since been closed again in anticipation of Hurricane Jose. The country's tourism minister said that under the best case scenario, it will reopen September 10 to continue the delivery of supplies, and commercial flights will resume within a week. The minister also said that while almost all of the islands' hotels suffered damage, the port is in slightly better shape. Two ships from the Dutch navy delivered emergency aid Friday.
Several deaths have been reported on the French side, St. Martin, with its major buildings destroyed and almost the entire area under a power blackout. The airport on the northern side of the island did not receive the same damage as the Dutch counterpart in the south, and relief helicopters and planes have been able to get in. The BBC has reported that France is sending three emergency teams to St. Martin and nearby St. Barts, two from France and one from Guadeloupe.
Adventure of the Seas will call there on its current sailing to bring clothing and water as part of relief efforts.
Cruise Port: Gustavia
Synonymous with Caribbean luxury travel, the French island of St. Barts also sustained significant damage to government buildings and some resorts. The main fire brigade station flooded, with all engines put out of service and the island is undergoing a total power blackout. Aid from the French government is arriving.
Cruise Port: Road Bay
Usually a stop for shore excursions and day trips from St. Martin, Anguilla received heavy rains and strong winds, with one fatality reported. According to the CTO, critical infrastructure, such as the hospital, airport, fire station, police station, government buildings and utilities received moderate to severe damage. The most recent report says roughly 90 percent of government buildings and businesses have been damaged, along with 90 percent of the electrical infrastructure. The island's main water supply has also sustained significant damage. The British government has deployed three humanitarian aid experts from the UK to assist and a British naval ship has arrived on island, with 40 Royal Marines and Army engineers on board.
British Virgin Islands
Cruise Port: Tortola
Irma hit the territory directly on Thursday afternoon. In a statement released by the CTO, BVI Tourism Director Sharon Flax-Brutus said "The destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands has been devastating." Communication is down, including cell phones and internet access, which make it hard to assess the extent of the damage, she said. "The destination has lost entire structures and many homes are without roofs, or have been diminished to merely foundations. Sadly, there may have been fatalities in the territory, but there are none confirmed at this time as we are still in the assessment process, which has been a challenge due to lack of communication." Photos on social media show extensive damage, with buildings in Road Town flattened; reports are coming out that popular islands such as Jost Van Dyke sustained direct hits. The government has begun to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts and initial clean-up, and the UK government is sending a Royal Navy ship to the island Saturday.
Billionaire Richard Branson, who currently has plans underway for his own cruise line, Virgin Voyages, rode out the storm in the wine cellar on his private island, Necker Island. While he remained safe, many buildings on Necker were destroyed, according to the Telegraph.
The islands are on edge for Hurricane Jose, which is expected to hit over the weekend.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Cruise Ports: St. Thomas; St. John; St. Croix
The storm came through the Virgin Islands, which are a U.S. territory and a major hub for cruising, on Wednesday and Thursday, causing significant damage to St. John and St. Thomas. According to USA TODAY, Congressional delegate Rep. Stacey Plaskett said that "St. Thomas and St. John are pretty devastated," with hotels damaged and the roof ripped off the only hospital in St. Thomas; patients were evacuated to Puerto Rico and emergency supplies are being distributed. Four people were killed by the storm. The airport is closed and visitors are being asked to stay away from the two islands.
St. Croix, which lies further south than the other two islands, suffered less damage, and resorts are open with limited service. The airport on St. Croix opened Friday, with the first commercial flight from San Juan.
In advance of the storm, the islands were declared an official disaster area on Tuesday evening, a designation that allows the federal government to reimburse the cost of damages. Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas is en route to St. Thomas to help with relief efforts there and in St. John.
Cruise Port: San Juan
Irma hit Puerto Rico hard on Wednesday night, with wind gusts of more than 100 mph. But while more than 900,000 people on the island were out of power – nearly 70 percent, according to the New York Times -- and more than 50,000 people were without water, no deaths have been reported.
On Friday, CTO announced that flights to the international airport had resumed and major tourism infrastructure and attractions were operational. The port is operational and as of Friday, Adventure of the Seas and Carnival Fascination, the two ships that homeport in San Juan, have not canceled their upcoming sailings for September 9 and September 10.
Cruise Port: Amber Cove; La Romana; Samana; Santo Domingo
The eye of Irma passed the north of the island Thursday near Puerto Plata, which is not far from the Carnival Corporation port of Amber Cove. Evacuations took place in Samana earlier in the week, the New York Times reported.
Turks & Caicos
Cruise Port: Grand Turk
Hurricane Irma hit the island archipelago Thursday night and early Friday morning. In a release, the tourism director reported some flooding and missing roofs, but no loss of life. Cruise ships visited Grand Turk as recently as Tuesday, but all current cruise traffic to the islands is closed, according to a CTO press release.
Cruise Ports: Nassau; Freeport; cruise line private islands
Six Southern islands in the Bahamas -- none of them with cruise ports -- were evacuated in preparation for the storm, which arrived Friday in parts of the archipelago; the "largest such evacuation in the history of the country," according to Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. The airport on New Providence, where Nassau is located, closed Thursday at sunset but will reopen September 10 at 5 a.m. The airport on Grand Bahama, where Freeport is located, closed on Friday, according to CTO. All cruise lines have been rerouted away from Bahamas to other destinations. Tropical storm and hurricane force winds, significant rainfall and strong waves are expected to continue into Saturday.
Cruise Ports: Havana; Cienfuegos; Santiago de Cuba
The northern coast of Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, was hit hard late Friday and much of the day Saturday as Irma lingered. Early reports say the storm tore roofs from buildings, resulted in significant flooding and killed more than 20 people. Norwegian Sky has canceled two cruises to Cuba from Miami, and Empress of Seas canceled its Sept. 9 sailing from Tampa.
--Compiled by Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor
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