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Three months after a hurricane devastated Barbuda and everybody left, little is back to normal

Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

Three months after hurricanes forced the evacuation of Barbuda, only 350 people -- or less than 20 percent of the population -- have returned to the tiny Caribbean island.

Hurricane Irma struck on Sept. 6, littering the 62-square-mile island with mangled metal, shattered glass and crushed household goods. Most homes were damaged or destroyed.

Days later, with Hurricane Jose poised to strike a second blow, all 1,800 residents were evacuated to neighboring Antigua. That storm missed. But when the Los Angeles Times visited a month later, the island was largely deserted.

In phone and email interviews this month, residents who have gone back said the pace of recovery there remains painfully slow.

"It's almost like an out-of-body experience," said Gina Walker, who returned in October. "You wake up every morning and expect things to be back to normal and they're not."

Walker had recently quit her job in New York as licensing manager for a music publisher, moving home with plans to build her dream house. She arrived a week before Irma hit.

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She lives with an aunt now and spends most of her time cleaning other people's homes and worrying about where to get water amid the rumble of generators and jackhammers.

"It really takes a toll," she said. "I'm happy to do the work, but would be lying if I said that it wasn't really difficult at this point."

Few homes have been reconnected to the central electrical grid or water mains, several returnees said. Residents get water from a roving truck or fetch it in jerrycans from a water treatment unit established by the charity Samaritan's Purse.

The island's elementary school and high school remain closed, along with the only bank. Telecommunications are sporadic. One supermarket has reopened, but some residents said they were surviving mainly on canned food because of the limited supply of fresh products.

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