A 27-year-old Sussex man has spoken of his horror of waiting for almost a week to find out whether his family in the British Virgin Islands had survived hurricane Irma.
Kadeem Callwood moved from the island of Tortola to the UK four years ago, leaving his mother, Elmera Howell, and his 19-year-old brother, Kevanne Callwood, behind.
He said he first found out about the hurricane through a phonecall from a concerned friend, as he does not watch TV or read the news.
Kadeem, who lives in Hove and was travelling on the number two bus to Steyning at the time, said: “I started freaking out. I broke down on the bus.
“The bus driver had to help me upstairs to my house.”
From that moment on he tried to contact his family – but was unable to reach them because of the damage caused to communications networks on the island.
“I was calling the house phone and cell phone at least 20 times an hour, with no response,” he said.
Scanning the news for information about his home town, Purcell, he said: “I got really paranoid, looking at all these photos of my neighbourhood – but I couldn’t see my house.”
It was almost a week later when, while watching television at a friend’s house, he finally received a simple text message from his mother – ‘mummy ok’.
“I broke down,” he said.
“I don’t know how it would feel to lose my mum. I thought I had lost her. I had this sickening feeling.
“It’s been scary. But I feel better now I know she’s ok.”
His mother told him the roof of their house had gone and the downstairs had flooded. He said: “She’s probably lost everthing.”
Kadeem, who has worked in events at the University of Sussex and also set up an organisation, Brighton Philanthropy, to help the homeless, said he felt guilty about not being there to help.
“Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of stuff,” he said.
“But my mum always made sure we had a roof over our heads and food on the table.
“And now the two things she promised me, I can’t guarantee her.”
Kadeem is trying to raise enough money to fix their house and hopes to bring his mother and brother to a safe place.
The disaster had come at a difficult moment in his personal life, he said, as Kadeem recently changed jobs, moved from Steyning to Lansdowne Street, Hove, and is in the process of divorcing his ex-husband, with whom he had lived with in Southwick.
He has set up a fundraising page to help his family and is hoping members of the community will help with donations.
Seeing photos of the devastation on the island was ‘depressing’, said Kadeem, who describes his homeland, where he had worked at a resort as a chef, waiter and bartender, as ‘beautiful’.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I still can’t.
“There’s no way we can recover.
“Our main income is tourism – and working at home I made good money.
“I don’t see how they can make money now.”
But he hopes his fundraising will go some way to help.
“At least I can do what I can,” he said.
“I want to give back to the people left back home.”
A spokesman from the foreign office confirmed that the British Virgin Islands were ‘severely impacted’ by Hurricane Irma on Thursday, September 7, and further affected by Hurricane Jose on Saturday, September 9.
“Communications have been damaged in the region, but mobile phone communications are improving,” the spokesman said.
“The local authorities have introduced a curfew from 6pm to 9am until further notice.”
The UK government is providing disaster relief, the spokesman confirmed.
Sussex Police said six officers from the force had flown out to the British Virgin Islands on Sunday, September 10, to assist local police for an initial period of two weeks.
The sergeant and five constables will be embedded directly with the local military headquarters and will support the local force in maintaining law, order and policing services, a spokesman said.
They will also assist in locating missing persons, including British nationals, liaise with UK authorities and assist with family liaison, added the spokesman.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said: “We are glad to be able to provide this support as part of the UK response to what is a major international humanitarian crisis.”
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, praised the swift deployment of British police officers to the devastated islands.
“Hurricane Irma has created chaos and misery for the islanders and they want to be able to rebuild their shattered communities without the added fear of opportunistic crime,” she said.
“I am proud that the presence of the nine Surrey and Sussex police officers will play a key role in restoring public confidence, maintaining public order and supporting the clean up operation.”