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Last Updated: Monday, 20 September, 2004, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
'Fear and looting' in the Caymans

by Gavin Hewitt
BBC correspondent

Hurricane Ivan's devastation of the British colony of the Cayman Islands wiped out many people's homes and all their belongings. BBC correspondent Gavin Hewitt, who travelled to the Caymans despite being refused permission to visit, investigates claims that the authorities played down the scale of the damage.

Just over a week after Hurricane Ivan left, islanders are still without power, they must queue for food and water, and looting is a growing problem.

In some areas it is like driving through a large junkyard, with cars tossed casually onto mounds of rubble. Entire houses have disappeared.

A week on, islanders are still in awe of winds that reached 200 mph. A quarter of buildings are uninhabitable - 80% have been damaged.

Devastation left by Hurricane Ivan on the Cayman Islands
It's total devastation. I feel so bad for everybody - there are people who have lost everything
Steve Hansen
Resident
Concrete slabs were just torn from homes, and we found residents just standing there bewildered.

I visited the modern housing development of Mariner's Cove - everyone who lived there is now homeless.

I walked on the foundations of what were private houses. There were about 30 or 40 of them, but a combination of the wind and rain sheared the buildings clean off.

Quite simply, now there is nothing left.

Resident Steve Hansen said: "It's total devastation. I feel so bad for everybody - there are people who have lost everything."

It should not be covered up. We have a disaster, we have a catastrophe on our hands.
Charles Kirkonnell
Former minister

Most of the island is still without power. The only clean water has to be delivered by tanker.

I met resident Brenda Cole - she and her cousins have little food, while they pick through the ruins for what can be saved.

"We have been here trying to clean up, and salvage what we can salvage. We have been living on coconuts," she said.

Even though there is a curfew at night there has been some looting, and for many people that is the biggest fear.

The main government building is closed but heavily guarded. At least 30 extra police officers have been drafted in from other countries, but some say it isn't enough.

Initially, our machinery has not been enough to open doors totally to the international media.
Bruce Dinwiddy
British Governor
When a supermarket re-opened, it had to be guarded by police with shotguns.

People question why the Caymans has not had more help - many believe the government actively tried to play down the crisis for fear of undermining the huge offshore banking industry.

Former government minister Charles Kirkonnell told me: "It should not be covered up. We have a disaster, we have a catastrophe on our hands. It needs to be met. We need to be truthful about the whole thing."

Suspicions were strengthened by the restrictions that were placed on the international media getting to the island.

But British governor Bruce Dinwiddy, who has overall responsibility here, said: "There has been no attempt whatever to cover up. We had no way of telling the world how dire our position was.

"Initially, our machinery has not been enough to open doors totally to the international media."

But I found nagging doubt here, over whether the priority is rebuilding and providing shelter for the people or getting back the tourists.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"Entire houses have disappeared"



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