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World

Irma Leaves Destruction In Antigua And Barbuda

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Before it turned toward Florida, Hurricane Irma plowed through the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. This storm flattened buildings. It submerged houses and cars. It left at least 20 people dead. Thousands are still without water or power. The tiny nation of Antigua and Barbuda suffered a huge blow. We're joined now by Asot Michael, the country's minister of tourism, economic development investment and energy. Thank you very much for joining us.

ASOT MICHAEL: Thank you. Good morning to all the listeners.

WERTHEIMER: Good morning. It seems as though your brief is going to be a very, very tough one for the next couple of years at least. We've seen pictures of Barbuda. It looks like total devastation. Did very much survive?

MICHAEL: Well, first of all, our country consists of two islands. It's important to make the distinction. And only one was impacted by the storm. Antigua, which is the larger of the two, which is also the seat of government and where most of the commercial activity is located, has been given the all clear and is open for business. In fact, the airport is fully operational. And direct international flights have resumed from Europe and North American region. All the...

WERTHEIMER: So we're very glad to hear that.

MICHAEL: Yes. And hotels in Antigua suffered very little damage, mainly to trees and landscape. In fact, 98 percent of the country's hotels and tourist facilities are located in Antigua, not Barbuda, and are now fully operational and receiving guests. The full cruise ship berths on Antigua are all fully operational and capable of accommodating up to the quantum-class-size ships.

WERTHEIMER: So let me just ask you.

MICHAEL: Now, Barbuda...

WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you this, sir. Congratulations on escaping some of the worst of this storm but...

MICHAEL: That's Antigua, yes.

WERTHEIMER: Do you - do - what is going to happen on Barbuda? I mean, we've seen pictures of Barbuda, which just look horrible.

MICHAEL: Yes. Barbuda, which was very, very badly damaged by Hurricane Irma - it does remain a huge, momentous challenge. We have established a timeline to clear the island of the rubble within three weeks and to commence the rebuilding efforts immediately. But the rebuilding efforts will include the construction of new berthing facilities for the cruise ships, the reconstruction of entire port facility in Barbuda, all of the infrastructure, the energy needs, water, telecommunications and electricity.

WERTHEIMER: How long do you think that will take?

MICHAEL: Well, that is going to take a while. That will probably take a couple of years. But we're going to reach that and start reconstruction immediately. As I said, Barbuda really has less than a hundred hotel rooms. So there's minimal impact to the country's overall tourism plan. But Barbuda is a serious challenge. But as a government, we will do whatever it takes in the short-term, immediately, to get Barbuda's on its feet again. We have actually set up a special account - a hurricane relief account. We'll be asking our international partners and friendly governments to make contributions directly to those accounts set up by the government, specifically for the Barbuda relief effort.

WERTHEIMER: Well, thank you very much sir. Asot Michael...

MICHAEL: Thank you very, very much, too.

WERTHEIMER: Asot Michael is the minister of tourism, economic development investment and energy for the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Thank you for speaking with us this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.