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After 2017's devastating storms, the GTA helps the Caribbean brace for hurricane season

June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season. It's a trying time for people in the Caribbean, who dealt with multiple, devastating hurricanes in 2017. Some in the GTA are finding ways to help residents prepare, while many on the islands are still trying to recover.

GlobalMedic will send water purification sachets, hygiene materials over next few weeks

GlobalMedic packed emergency kits to send to the Caribbean, which include toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap on Friday in Brampton. (Angelina King/CBC)

When Hurricane Irma hit the island of Barbuda in September 2017, Scarborough residents Tamara and Annette Huggins stayed up listening to a local radio station, getting updates on friends and family in their homeland.

Late in the evening, the program went silent.

"We just sat here praying because that's all we knew ... to do at that particular time," Annette said.

The storm flattened the small island, destroying almost every building and leaving hundreds homeless.

Most homes on the island of Barbuda crumbled in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. (Submitted by Tamara Huggins)

When Annette Huggins visited the island earlier this year, she said she wept.

"You can imagine when I go and I see my family living under a tent how I feel."

"The devastation, I think for most people, was beyond words," Tamara Huggins said. "Many people would say the hurricane happened a long time ago, but it really has been an eye opener as to how long these rebuilding processes can take."

Two years on, schools, government buildings and the island's only hospital are still in the midst of being rebuilt, the sisters said.

With hurricane season approaching on June 1, members of the Caribbean diaspora, as well as emergency relief groups, are helping to prepare the islands should another storm hit.

Annette, left, and Tamara Huggins now live in Scarborough, but both visit Barbuda frequently. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Preparing for the worst

Along with individuals like the Huggins sisters sending supplies home, emergency relief organizations like GlobalMedic have started packing events to get precautionary supplies to the islands in the next few weeks.

Dozens of volunteers gathered Friday in Brampton to assemble thousands of white buckets filled with water purification sachets and hygiene supplies, such as toothpaste, soap and toothbrushes.

Proctor and Gamble donated the supplies, while Air Canada will be bringing them to the islands at no cost.

GlobalMedic executive director Rahul Singh says his organization responded to nine nations in 27 days when the storms hit in 2017. (Angelina King/CBC)

GlobalMedic executive director Rahul Singh said the kits will ensure families have supplies to last them a few months if emergency responders can't reach them right away, similar to 2017.

"We were run off our feet. We had nine Caribbean responses in the space of 27 days," Singh said.

Several hurricanes hit the Caribbean within two months of each other, causing billions in damages.

"It's frustrating for us as rescuers to not be able to get aid to those islands quickly, so by pre-positioning these kits we're just going to get aid to them that much faster."

One of the most important items will be the water purification sachets — 240 of them in each kit, which can clean 10 litres of water each.

Jamie Cross, left, seals buckets used to protect the water purification sachets and hygiene products from water. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

"It's going to let a family keep drinking clean, safe water so that they don't get sick," said Jamie Cross, emergency programs officer with GlobalMedic.

Receiving similar aid in advance could've helped residents on the island of Dominica when Hurricane Maria struck, according to Frances Delsol, trade and investment commissioner for Dominica in Canada.

The hurricane left roads covered with fallen trees, making it impossible for helicopters to land with supplies, she said, leaving people with no choice but to drink contaminated water.

"They didn't have any way of cleaning themselves. No soaps, no toothpaste, no toothbrush, everything was gone."

Frances Delsol says 80 per cent of Dominica was affected by Hurricane Maria. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

These supplies will give people a sense of normalcy in an abnormal situation, Delsol said, if another hurricane were to strike.

"There is this trepidation amongst the people that it could happen again."

Rebuilding with resiliency

Tamara has also co-founded an organization to help redevelop the island of Barbuda called The Be Foundation. It's a collection of people from the international Barbudan diaspora.

They're working on community programming so children can get back to school and residents can get back to work.

Barbuda residents sit in a church still damaged from Hurricane Irma. (Submitted by Tamara Huggins)

She said they're also working to "hurricane-proof" the island, by requesting donations of construction materials.

"We're currently working on rebuilding the basketball court for the young people," she said. "It's going to be built with a court floor that can be removed when the hurricane is coming and packed away."

Although it's unclear if another storm will hit this year, Tamara said she's sure of one thing: the resiliency of Barbudans.

"One of the wonderful things that I've seen in my trips back home since the hurricane is just the resolve of the community and how dedicated people have been to working together."

Annette went through two hurricanes herself when she grew up in Barbuda.

"We knew moving forward that Barbudans are survivors and no matter how devastated things were ... we will manage through the storms," she said.

"We all are in it together."

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