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Devastated island of Barbuda catches a break from Jose; There isn't much left to destroy

Capt. Eric King conducts a port assessment of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

U.S. COAST GUARD

By ANTHONY FAIOLA, LINDSEY BEVER, ANDREW DEGRANDPRE, KRISTINE PHILLIPS | The Washington Post | Published: September 9, 2017

CABARET, Haiti — After the near-annihilation of tiny Barbuda by Hurricane Irma, its 1,700 evacuated residents took shelter on its sister island of Antigua, hunkering down in government buildings and residential homes as Hurricane Jose approached.

But the island nation caught a lucky break as Jose turned and missed both islands, Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador to the United States from Antigua and Barbuda, said Saturday. Not that a hit on Barbuda could have done much more damage on the now-desolate island. Updated surveys had indicated that nearly 100 of its buildings had been damaged or destroyed, Sanders said.

"Jose would have only added to the debris," he said. "There's no one there now. It's like a scene from winter without snow. No grass. No trees. It is just rubble. We now have refugees from Barbuda in Antigua, and will have to sustain their lives for months, probably years, as we rebuild."

The powerful tropical cyclone, which was barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, has weakened within the past 12 hours but remains a dangerous Category 4 storm, officials said. Jose's maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm is expected to pass north of the northern Leeward Islands later on Saturday. That's down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm.

Forecasters say the storm is expected to gradually weaken over the next couple of days after it passes the northern Leeward Islands. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also suffered heavy damage during Irma.

Signs of Jose's weakening came Saturday afternoon, when warnings were gradually lifted.

Alerts for Barbuda, Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts, have been downgraded from a hurricane storm warning to a tropical storm warning. The island of Anguilla is also under a tropical storm warning.

The islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius are no longer under a tropical storm warning. Tropical storm watch alerts for Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Thomas and St. John of the U.S. Virgin Islands have all been discontinued.

Still, Sint Maarten, a territory of the Kingdom of Netherlands, was left vulnerable after Irma damaged or destroyed 70 percent of homes there, Dutch officials said.

The alarming announcement of another massive hurricane comes as military personnel and emergency responders from the United States and Europe rush to aid those still reeling from Irma, which roared across the same region as a Category 5 storm on Wednesday.

On the devastated island of Barbuda, authorities and private tour operators scrambled to evacuate the remainder of its residents to nearby Antigua. A poor, impoverished and indebted nation, Sanders said his country would reach out for international aid for a reconstruction effort that could take years and cost $150 million or more. He said the United States has yet to pledge help.

"We have reached out for assistance to the U.S., but I've been told they could not promise anything because, I suppose, they have challenges of their own in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We will have to look to the broader international community," he said.

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Nick Miroff, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Matea Gold in Washington; Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela; and Annabell Van den Berghe in Brussels contributed to this report.
 

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