Lessons from Anguilla — Resilience in the Face of Disaster

On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma tore across the tiny island nation of Anguilla. Every power pole was destroyed. Roofs were torn off schools, government buildings, and the hospital. The Category 5 hurricane’s 185 mph winds and driving rain caused severe interior damage and destruction to most buildings on the island. After the storm, every road on the island was blocked with fallen polls, trees, and debris, and there was no power for weeks. Amazingly, only two people died.

Six months later, we are visiting; amazed at the recovery that has taken place in such a short time. While most Caribbean islands, such as neighboring St Maarten, remain heavily damaged, Anguilla’s 13,000 inhabitants have worked their hearts and bodies out to bring life here back to something approaching normal. Power has been restored all over the island, internet and phone is largely back, and the majority of the colorful beach restaurants and shops serving Anguilla’s crucial tourist industry have been completely rebuilt.

The few large resorts on the island will take longer to reopen, but the villa we have been renting for years here survived and from our veranda we continue to enjoy the panoramic view of waves crashing on coral reefs that separate us from 3,000 miles of Atlantic ocean between us and the nearest landmass, the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

We are fortunate to be able to enjoy Anguilla again, but this disaster severely impacted locals’ lives. Tourism income vanished for months while recovery was underway, and many are still without work while a few large resorts remain closed and travel into the island is restricted due to serious hurricane damage at the two feeder airports SXM and SJU.

Luckily, Anguilla has built an incredibly loyal tourist base, including people like us who have been vacationing here for decades. The stunning beaches, great restaurants, and, above all, friendly locals have driven us to do what we can to get this island back on its feet. We and many others have donated to relief efforts, brought needed school supplies in our suitcases, and donated time while we’re here to volunteer (in our case, in the schools and a community center).

Here are one visitor’s thoughts about what this tiny island means to him:

I am the kind of man who tries to always look at the bright side. It makes me happy to look at the world through positive eyes. I had to learn to look for gratitude in my daily living but it has completely changed my outlook on living and who I am. I start most days thinking of all that I have to be grateful for — but Anguilla is another story!

I am so lucky to get to even come here. I am ever grateful to the people who introduced me to this island thirty years ago and even more grateful to the wonderful warm Anguillans who have welcomed me back over the years. The people of the world could learn some good lessons in how to live their lives from the people of this tiny island.

This is the first day of our last week here! Why am I so sad? How many people get to come to a wonderful place like this in the dead of winter and go on the beach and in the ocean every day for six weeks? I ought to be focusing on that instead of having this mental countdown. I feel like a little kid, sad that the summer is over.

Would I love this place as much if I lived here? Maybe it is because I do leave and go home that makes it so special. My heart will ache when I step on the boat and I will be glancing back over here all the way over to the airport.
—Paul F. Phillips from the Facebook Anguilla For Tourists Group

There is a synergy at work here. The islanders’ friendliness, openness, acceptance of difficult circumstances, and hard work have led visitors to fall in love with this small, unique Caribbean community. We in turn are doing everything we can to keep Anguilla strong in the face of adversity. Together, we are striving to maintain something that is dynamic, special, and quite rare in this world: a special place for both locals and tourists to enjoy and cherish.

More Lessons from Anguilla can be read here.