Anguilla

Anguilla: The Eye Of The Recovery

By Leslie Long

Rebuilt and happily back in business, the original Sunshine Shack was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Photograph by Leslie Long.

Rebuilt and happily back in business, the original Sunshine Shack was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Photograph by Leslie Long.

The first time I visited Anguilla was well before Hurricane Irma, the storm of storms that ripped its way across the island on September 5, 2017. A category 5 hurricane with winds of 185 miles an hour and gusts clocked at 218, it was nothing short of devastating to this serene little paradise known for its gentle breezes and lapping shores.

When the debris settled, Irma was deemed one of the areas strongest hurricanes ever — and all 15,000 residents were affected. Everyone lost power and running water. And 85% of the buildings were damaged — from homes and hotels to hospitals and schools. Instead of bemoaning what happened, the spirit since then has been one of renewal. This was very much in evidence during my recent visit. Most properties have reopened and many are using this as an opportunity to upgrade and improve.

Whenever I asked Anguillians about that ominous day, the look of remembrance on their faces was like a cloud passing over the sun. Yes, they prepare for hurricanes here, and even expect them. Storms are a way of life, but this one was different. They were scared.

Some backstory.

Every island has its calling card and for Anguilla, it’s 35 idyllic beaches over 35 square miles. Often referred to as the best beaches in the Caribbean, they are usually connected to a hotel, bar or restaurant — from local joints to fine dining. Even better, the food in Anguilla excels, restaurant after restaurant.

What connects everything are the lovely, welcoming Anguillians. To quote the National Anthem, they are “proud, strong and free.”  These qualities have helped Anguilla cultivate a large fan base of vacationers who return again and again. Natural beauty and natural niceness are hard to beat.

When driving around Anguilla, idyllic vistas are around every bend. Photograph by Leslie Long.

When driving around Anguilla, idyllic vistas are around every bend. Photograph by Leslie Long.

So much support.

After the storm many were without power for over three months. There was no running water and many residents lost their homes. Yet, calm prevailed, and allowed for planning to start and recovery to begin. There was no stealing and a curfew wasn’t necessary. People didn’t evacuate, but stayed to help themselves and their neighbors. Anguilla’s many friends throughout the world sent aid through Go Fund Me pages, often within hours of the storm. Whether volunteering their time or sending money and supplies, the help was quick and prolific.

Quintessence, an extraordinary small hotel with an impressive collection of Haitian artwork, has opened since Hurricane Irma. Photograph by Leslie Long.

Quintessence, an extraordinary small hotel with an impressive collection of Haitian artwork, has opened since Hurricane Irma. Photograph by Leslie Long.

Coming together.

Possessions were rescued, roads were cleared and repairs began on schools and hospitals. Flow, the island’s telecommunications service kept cell service going in most areas. Radio Anguilla and the Government of Anguilla’s Department of Disaster Management not only prepared the island with coordinated announcements, but kept residents informed after the storm.

Pretty in purple, there’s a poignant beauty to this building that’s hopefully on the mend. Photograph by Leslie Long.

Pretty in purple, there’s a poignant beauty to this building that’s hopefully on the mend.
Photograph by Leslie Long.

A combination of corporations, locals, visitors and Anguilla expats found ways to add to the effort. Here are some of the organizations that were instrumental in the recovery:

Help Anguilla - a website with an Amazon Wish List of emergency supplies that were delivered to the distribution center at The Anguilla Drug Store. Soon after being posted, the list sold out.

Anguilla Stronger - a tax deductible relief fund that raised close to $2 million created by The Starwood Capital Group, soon joined by many of Anguilla’s finer hotels: Belmond Cap Juluca, Zemi Beach Hotel and Auberge Resorts (managers of Maliouhana).

Blanchards Anguilla Children’s Fund - one of Anguilla’s most beloved restaurants used their ongoing children’s fund to provide over 2000 Anguillians with generators, baby formula, food, diapers and clothing. The restaurant’s team staffed the effort.

Bloom’s Anguilla Relief Fund - a Go Fund Me page managed by Anguilla residents Bonnie and Ira Bloom that lent a hand with fast financial aid and building supplies.

APANY (Anguilla Progressive Society of New York) - along with the Rotary Club of Anguilla, they provided Christmas dinners for the elderly, a $100,000 donation to repair the Ebenezer Methodist Church and other needed funds.

The grilled crayfish is as delicious as ever at the rebuilt open air restaurant and bar on Sandy Island, is a dreamy little cay just off the shores of Sandy Ground.  Photograph by Leslie Long.

The grilled crayfish is as delicious as ever at the rebuilt open air restaurant and bar on Sandy Island, is a dreamy little cay just off the shores of Sandy Ground.
Photograph by Leslie Long.

Remembering and looking ahead.

Sudden hardship has a way of bringing people together and after the danger passed, many Anguillians speak of close times with friends and family as the island regained its equilibrium.

Without TV, radio or power of any kind, it felt like a simpler time. People lived according to the sun, making the most of each day before darkness. During candlelit evenings, talk took precedence over electronics.

It’s coming up on a year and a half since the storm and so much has happened. New properties have opened, others have reopened and visitors have their beloved island back. The beaches as gorgeous as ever and the food is exceeding its previous reputation. Strong, proud and free must have new meaning on this island where so many worked together to recover and renew.

E’s Oven in South Hill is known for its fine home cooking. Photograph by Leslie Long.

E’s Oven in South Hill is known for its fine home cooking. Photograph by Leslie Long.

For more information, go to ivisitanguilla.com

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Leslie Long is a NY-based travel writer and photographer with a special love of coastal destinations, islands, unsung small cities and emerging areas. When traveling, she especially enjoys meeting local entrepreneurs who are passionate about where they live. She has also been an associate creative director/copywriter in advertising, most recently at Saatchi & Saatchi.

With a love of dance, she spent ten years writing the communications for New York City Ballet. Alvin Ailey and Ballet Hispanico were also among her clients. This interest led her to explore the Gran Teatro de La Habana where she happened upon a practice session of Cuba's National Flamenco Dance Company. These images were part of her first photography show, Havana Rough/Refined. Her photographs have recently been included in Lumina, the literary journal of Sarah Lawrence College and she's exhibited her work in NY and California.

Leslie's travel articles have appeared in the NY Post, Dallas Morning News, TimeOut NY, Westchester Magazine and many other print and online venues. Ever curious, she's always on the lookout for a new destination that calls out to her with its combination of interest, potential and a particular kind of beauty.


Link to website: leslielong.com