Preparing for Hurricane Irma and Her Aftermath: Is Everyone Treated Equally?

Meagan Nicholson – On Friday, September 6, Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history[1] made its first landfall on the small Caribbean island of Barbuda.[2] The storm continued its dangerous path through the Caribbean, destroying several small islands. Islands in its path included the independent nations of Antigua, St. Kitts, and Nevis.[3] Several of the other islands affected belong to foreign powers. These territories include the French territory of St. Martin, the Dutch territory of St. Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, and the British owned Turks and Caicos.[4] Most of these countries are old colonies and have been under foreign rule since the colonial era.[5] The American owned territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were also impacted by this dangerous storm.[6]

Hurricane Irma also threatened the mainland of the United States. On the mainland of the United States, federal and state agencies and leaders prepared for the worst as Irma geared toward Florida. In anticipation of the major storm event, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida.[7] Scott ordered for vast preparations, which included evacuations, closing of state schools, expediting the shipping of gas and supplies, and deploying the Florida national guard and other officials to help prepare the state for the worst.[8] President Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida[9], South Carolina, and Georgia.[10] The President authorized FEMA to provide federal disaster relief and funds in these areas.[11] In the wake of the storm, President Trump announced plans to visit Florida to survey the hurricane damage.[12]

While the effort to protect citizens on the mainland of the United States from the dangers of hurricane Irma was widespread and proactive[13], the same cannot be said for the efforts made to protect inhabitants of Caribbean islands from this disaster. The Caribbean islands hit by Irma, both independent and foreign-owned, were largely unprepared for the disaster the storm brought, as compared to the mainland of the United States.

The Leaders of France, Brittan, and the Netherlands have been criticized for their lack of effort to prepare the islands for the storm, and for their slow response to send aid after.[14] Several days after the storm hit, some island citizens were still without response or aid from European leaders.[15] A citizen from Dutch-owned St. Maarten claims that two days out from the storm, no response was heard from Dutch authorities, and the authorities had been slow to deliver necessities such as food and water.[16] Since these reports, foreign leaders have made efforts to visit their island colonies to survey the damage after the storm, but despite these visits, the disaster relief efforts have been disorganized and chaotic.[17]

The United States is not immune from similar criticism.[18] While President Trump also declared a state of emergency in the U.S. owned Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands[19], and the federal government has sent aid[20], residents from these areas feel the disaster relief efforts have been unorganized and chaotic.[21] There was virtually no news coverage of the storm’s impact on these American owned territories on American television channels[22], and the President has not yet announced if he will be visiting the islands to assess the damage.[23] This lack of effort has left these U.S. territories felling like “the bastard step-children” of the U.S.[24]

The disordered and slow response of foreign leaders to help their island nations has led many to wonder why decisions about people’s lives are being made from across the globe.[25] While island citizens are not yet calling for independence from foreign rule over this disaster, foreign leaders will need to work even harder to ensure they are bringing the best aid they possibly can, if they want to dispel tensions between foreign rule and their old colonies.[26] Controlling a nation from afar is certainly a difficult task and a huge liability, but it is a liability that these foreign nations chose to take on. Their citizens deserve the same protection efforts that citizens on the mainland are given. The disasters caused by hurricane Irma in the Caribbean will hopefully show foreign leaders the importance of providing a proactive response to natural disasters to all of their citizens, not just those on the mainland.

[1] Doyle Rice & Doug Stanglin, ‘Apocalyptic’ Hurricane Irma Tears Through Caribbean; Three Dead, USA Today (Sept. 6, 2017, 2:50 AM),

[2] Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Most Powerful Hurricane in Recorded History Smashes into Tiny Caribbean Island, Metro (Sept. 6, 2017, 7:23 AM),

[3] Dakin Andone, James Griffiths, & Laura Smith-Spark, Millions in Hurricane Irma’s Path as it Barrels Through Caribbean, CNN (Sept. 8, 2017, 11:06 AM),

[4] Id.

[5] Kate Maltby, Hurricane Irma Reminds Europe of Its Awkward Colonial Rule, CNN (Sept. 13, 2017, 4:20 AM),

[6] Andone, supra note 3.

[7] Office of Rick Scott 45th Governor of Florida, Gov. Scott Issues Updates on Hurricane Irma Preparedness (Sept. 7, 2017),

[8] Id.

[9] Jesse Byrnes, Trump Issues Florida Emergency Declaration Ahead of Hurricane Irma, The Hill (Sept. 5, 2017, 7:04 PM),

[10] Bo Petersen, Forecast Shifts West for Hurricane Irma as Decision on South Carolina Evacuation to Come Friday, The Post & Courier (Sept. 8, 2017),

[11] Id.

[12] Kathryn Watson, Trump to Travel to Florida, in Aftermath of Hurricane Irma, CBS News (Sept. 13, 2017, 1:01 PM),

[13] Id.

[14] Maltby, supra note 5.

[15] Danica Coto, Nicholas Garriga, & Sylvie Corber, European Leaders View Devastated Caribbean Islands as Residents Struggle, USA Today (Sept. 12, 2017, 6:46 PM),

[16] Jim Wyss, Hard-Hit Virgin Islands Residents Feel Like ‘Bastard Step-Children’ of U.S. After Irma, Miami Herald (Sept. 12, 2017, 12:53 PM)

[17] Coto, supra note 15.

[18] Wyss, supra note 16.

[19] Byrnes, supra note 9.

[20] Daniella Silva, Hurricane Irma Survivors in Caribbean Fear They Will Be Forgotten After ‘Apocalyptic’ Storm, NBC News (Sept. 13, 2017, 7:24 AM)

[21] Wyss, supra note 16.

[22] Id.

[23] Meredith McGraw, President Trump Calls Hurricane Irma ‘Some Big Monster’, ABC News (Sept. 10, 2017, 8:11 PM)

[24] Wyss, supra note 16.

[25] Maltby, supra note 5.

[26] Id.

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