On Oct. 9, 1780, the Great Hurricane came to the Caribbean.
Huracan San Calixto lasted 11 days in the West Indies, pummeling the southeastern Caribbean with terrifying winds as high as 200 miles per hour, destroying homes and livelihoods.
Almost 22,000 people died across the West Indies in islands including Barbados, Martinique, St Lucia, St Eustatius then northern islands like Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
This terrible tempest remains the deadliest recorded hurricane in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Everything was washed away. Or so it seemed.
Just about every island in the Caribbean has its own hurricane story, from Omar in Nevis to Ivan in Grenada to the Great Storm of Cayman Brac in 1932.
But all of these islands are still here. And they are not going anywhere.
Because that’s the thing about Caribbean people: they cannot be defeated. They rebuild, they restore and they live again.
It is the cost of the region’s unimaginable natural beauty that, by the caprice of fate, there is the periodic risk of ruin, an intermittent reminder of the supremacy of Mother Nature.
But after each storm, after each tragedy, the Caribbean waves its finger at Mother Nature; “storms may come and go, but we are here to stay.”
There is nothing to be said of this past week’s tragedies that has not yet been said, and our hearts go out to the people who died.
What needs to be said is this: the Caribbean will rebuild.
It will not be easy, it may not be quick, but it will happen.
And then think of the destinations that escaped Irma’s wrath: the vast majority of the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Guadeloupe, Punta Cana, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, the Colombian Caribbean, the Venezuelan Caribbean, Belize, Panama, Honduras, the Mexican Caribbean … the list goes on. That’s along with islands like Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Croix and Providenciales, places which were “largely” unscathed and quickly getting back to business.
So what should you do, as someone who loves the Caribbean?
Of course, you should donate to any legitimate charity, send money to those in need, donate items for relief and recovery, something we’ll continue to highlight in the coming weeks.
But the biggest thing you can do for the livelihood of this whole region is to keep coming back to the Caribbean.
For now, keep traveling to the islands that were unaffected. Then, stay updated as islands rebuild and recover, and then travel there when they’re ready to welcome you.
Because tourism remains the life blood of the Caribbean — it is the way this beautiful region makes a living, and without it there is no oil or copper or large industry to fall back on.
It is the fundament of the Caribbean economy, and it is a direct conduit to the pocketbooks of the people of this region.
Hurricane Irma put the Caribbean in an unfortunate global spotlight. But in a few weeks, the spotlight will dim and the news cycle will forget.
You cannot forget.
Keep coming back. Because the Caribbean is still here. And it is not going anywhere.
Alexander Britell, Founder and Editor in Chief, Caribbean Journal
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