By TIM SMITH
In times of crisis, our Caribbean neighbours know they can count on support from Bermuda.
Islanders have repeatedly shown generosity when hurricanes have devastated jurisdictions to the south – raising cash towards recovery programmes and sending soldiers, police and other workers to help with clean-up operations.
A combination of good will and a sense of “there but for the grace of God go I” has proved enough to create an empathetic tradition going back generations.
Ann Spencer-Arscott, director of the Bermuda Red Cross, has been involved in numerous fundraising campaigns after major storms.
“Bermuda residents are extremely generous, especially with the Caribbean,” she said.
“I think it’s because we are an island and we can appreciate and understand what they are going through. We have never had that really big hurricane, but we have had some pretty close calls.
“People also know that in the Caribbean and some parts of the East Coast of the United States their structures are not built the same as ours. They may not stand up to the storm.”
She added: “A lot of people who settled in Bermuda originally came from the islands, so they still have connections there.”
Newspaper archives show examples of hurricane-related altruism dating back decades.
In 1926, the warship HMS Valerian was sent to the Bahamas on an “errand of mercy” after the Caribbean country had been devastated by two hurricanes in one season.
A cruel twist of fate saw the Valerian get wrecked by severe winds itself shortly before it completed its journey home – killing 88 people on board to make it Bermuda’s deadliest storm.
Going back even further, The Royal Gazette referred to local fundraising efforts in 1899 after a storm killed more than 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.
In more recent times, a huge mission was launched by the Bermuda Government after Hurricane Dorian caused utter destruction in the Bahamas two years ago.
Dorian killed 74 people – with another 200 still reported missing – and wreaked about $3.4 billion in damages to the Bahamas, roughly a quarter of its GDP.
About 100 tonnes of relief supplies donated by residents were transported to the Caribbean country on the Royal Naval Ship HMS Protector, while the Bermuda Red Cross collected $336,000.
Bahamian-born lawyer Simone Smith-Bean who led the fundraising efforts in Bermuda, told how she returned to the Bahamas and spent hours searching for her family “who were later found holed up in a church”.
She said of the devastation: “The first thing that came to my mind was the great help that was going to be required, just as a result of the initial pictures of the devastation that was coming out of the Bahamas.”
Major Clarence Ingram, a Nassau relief worker formerly with the Salvation Army’s Bermuda Division, said that the island’s donation created a significant boost to morale.
While repair work has been continuous since then, many homes are still without roofs, extensively damaged buildings have been abandoned and smashed cars continue to litter the streets.
And although the construction industry is booming, authorities in the Bahamas say the recovery programme will take years to complete.
One of the Caribbean’s worst years for hurricanes was 2017, with more than 3,300 deaths and almost $300 billion in damages recorded, when the region was ravaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Some 95 per cent of structures in Barbuda were knocked down, while in Puerto Rico more than a third of homes were destroyed and the power grid was shattered.
Residents in Bermuda donated more than $180,000 to the Red Cross, while the Salvation Army and the West Indian Association of Bermuda were also involved in fundraising.
A team of Belco linemen and a group of Bermuda police officers were flown to the British Virgin Islands to restore the power grid and help with internal security.
Thirty soldiers from the Royal Bermuda Regiment, meanwhile, were sent to Grand Turk Island to clear roads to emergency service centres and deliver supplies.
Kenneth Morgan, a former Bermuda resident now in the BVI, said of the international support: “It has had a huge impact. We are a small place and when something like this happens, assistance is invaluable.
“Having the teams from Bermuda, Canada and Jamaica to help has been invaluable, as was getting police here to help keep law and order.”
The Regiment has also helped with disaster relief in the Cayman Islands and Grenada in recent years.
Since its fundraising records began in 1972, the Bermuda Red Cross has collected more than $6 million through disaster appeals.
This includes $385,000 in 2013 for Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and flattened entire villages in the Philippines. The Association of Filipinos in Bermuda also raised $60,000 for that cause.
Arlene Magno, Consul at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, said: “Only when a nation is faced with a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan do you realise the closeness of bonds between two nations.
“Bermuda has shown itself to be a friend to the Philippines at this crucial time. And we cannot thank them enough.”
Another of Bermuda’s biggest fundraising efforts was prompted by one of the Caribbean’s worst storms of the 1980s, Hurricane Gilbert, which killed 49 people and caused $700 million in damage in Jamaica in 1988.
The Jamaica Relief Fund raised $230,000 – the equivalent of more than $500,000 today.
Other major disasters to spark campaigns by the Bermuda Red Cross include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which generated $1.5 million, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which collected $1.2 million, and 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, which raised $400,000.
Ms Spencer-Arscott said: “We get a huge response from the community when they can see the pictures of devastation.
“People really want to help, even if it’s just dropping off something that might be useful for someone else.”
She added: “The best way of helping any area hit by a disaster is by financial support, because at first they don’t know exactly what they will need.”
For more information about the Bermuda Red Cross, visit bermudaredcross.com or call 236-8253.