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Maria Follows On The Heels Of Hurricane Irma

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There has just been no time to rest for some Caribbean islands cleaning up from big tropical storms. First there was Irma then there was Jose.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yeah, and it is hard to believe, but here we are talking about another big hurricane. Maria was a Category 5 storm when it hit the small island of Dominica, and a call for help came from that country's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

GREENE: Yeah. Skerrit was updating his Facebook page just as Maria made landfall. He posted about merciless winds, and then a note that his roof was gone. He was eventually rescued, and he later wrote from what he has heard the damage is devastating and mind boggling.

KELLY: As the storm moves on from there this morning, other areas in the Caribbean are under hurricane warnings. One of those areas is British Virgin Islands, and that is where Jim Waterson of BuzzFeed UK has just traveled. He was along with British military officials, and he is on the line now from Barbados. Jim, good morning.

JIM WATERSON: Good morning.

KELLY: Tell us where you managed to go and what did you see?

WATERSON: So I managed to get onto the main islands of the British Virgin Islands, and we went through all the main settlements and it is complete devastation. So there are cars that are just upside-down by the side of the road. There are boats just strewn everywhere. It looks like a war zone, and that's not an exaggeration. Except with a war zone, you'd normally see something targeted. There's - every single building have damage in some way. And even though it's nominally a very wealthy place, there are a lot of very poor residents on the island, and they clearly need shelter and aid pretty fast.

KELLY: And to be clear, this is devastation that was already there from - from the prior hurricanes that now makes things more difficult as this new one bears down.

WATERSON: Yeah. So Irma came in, destroyed a lot of stuff, but actually only, you know, luckily - I mean, it's unfortunate - but only five people were actually killed. And the real fear, talking to the British military, is that more people could actually be killed by a hit from Maria coming in and people who are ill-prepared, whose morale is low, who've already spent the last week trying to patch things up. And the inadequate shelter which they currently have could be swept away completely by flooding or by the, you know, debris flying through the air that has been picked up and deposited by Irma and it could now just be flying around the air like ammunition.

So there were a lot of fears. Genuinely, what I was picking up from going to the British military HQ is they're almost as worried about this as they were about the initial hit.

KELLY: And just to be clear I'm hearing you correctly, this is, like, walls that were down, roofs that are down. All this rubble that - and the fear is this new hurricane will come in and pick it up and blow it around just as missiles.

WATERSON: Absolutely. It - it - there is so much stuff on the islands there's nowhere to put it. It's just piled-up by the sides of roads. And if you, you know, you can see that boats were being blown around by Irma, and Maria came in and picked up shrapnel, essentially, picked up pieces of glass, picked up poles. This could be somehow more dangerous than the initial hit because at least then everything started off in one piece and was worn down. This time, everything's already broken up.

KELLY: And how are they even going about trying to begin preparing for - for landfall by Maria?

WATERSON: So I mean, they've spent the last week, the British military, on the island and other aid organizations trying to rebuild. There's a reluctant acceptance that most of it is going to be undone by Maria when it comes so they'll have to start with that. The British military have surged people in and they're basically telling them, the Marines, to hunker down, prepare for the worst and then just be ready to charge out as soon as the storm has passed and help whatever the people of the British Virgin Islands need on the ground. But they are - there's not much they can do right now. It's just a case of waiting for the storm to pass and picking up the pieces afterwards.

KELLY: All right. Thank you, Jim.

WATERSON: Thank you.

KELLY: That is BuzzFeed UK's Jim Waterson updating us there on preparations for yet another hurricane, Hurricane Maria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.