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Hurricane Irma leaves British Virgin Islands a pitiful paradise

Two months after Irma hit these islands, they make a pretty pitiful paradise.

Water and power have not been restored to the majority of houses, and there are still plenty of people living in roofless, rain-drenched and ruined homes, as well as 6,000 people homeless.

Not that progress hasn’t been made: Security is no longer an issue here, half the schools have now reopened, and many thousands of tonnes of debris have been cleared away.

Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean in September. Credit: ITV News

But this recovery programme is going to be long haul.

There’s no quick fix for the 36,000 people here whose lives and homes torn apart when Irma’s winds swept through the Caribbean.

Many have been left without jobs as the tourist industry has effectively shut down.

Work is underway to rebuild the homes destroyed by Irma. Credit: ITV News

This has left some families completely broke as well as homeless and some have quit the islands completely.

There are no official figures but half the population of Jost Van Dyke island has left.

Half the population of Jost Van Dyke has left. Credit: ITV News

At the New Life Baptist church on the main island of Tortola more than half of their 300 strong congregation has gone.

“It’s the great exodus” Bishop John Cline told me.

Some will undoubtedly return.

Those working in the financial services industry for example have relocated to other Caribbean islands but expect to return in the New Year.

Aid has arrived in the form of food and building materials, but ports are becoming overwhelmed. Credit: ITV News

But help is pouring in.

Everything these islands need has to come from outside: supermarket food, telegraph poles, plywood, tarpaulins, even asphalt for the badly damaged roads.

Tortola’s port has been overwhelmed and much needed building materials and imports are getting stuck there.

Nothing here is simple, the scale of the rebuild is immense.

But there is optimism and patience here in abundance despite the suffering.

A phrase we keep hearing again and again on the islands is “grateful for life”.

People living in intolerable conditions break into a smile and say it to us as they give thanks for the little they have left.

And those who have plenty are stepping in and helping too.

Marines arrives in the aftermath of the hurricane. Credit: ITV News

Private investment will be crucial in the next few years if these islands are to recover.

Rich regular visitors who love the BVI are mobilising. The luxury tourism sector has to get back on its feet.

The hotel where we are staying is hosting the annual boat show this week despite Irma as a statement of confidence that the tourism industry will recover

It’s when the visitors come back that these islands will fully recover.

But meanwhile the people who live here are struggling to rebuild normal lives in a place where very little has so far returned to normal, and absolutely nothing is easy.