Junior Minister for Tourism Hon. Archibald Christian who wept during the debate of the Curfew Bill when the House of Assembly met last Thursday 5 October said that hurricane Irma not only brought devastation but also presented the ugliness of looting to the Territory.
In raising the topic of the unprecedented looting that took place Hon. Christian explained that on the morning following the passage of the hurricane while some showed community spirit by instinctively using their heavy equipment to assist in clearing roads and other efforts some ventured to loot various businesses.
The Junior Minister said that he saw persons with suitcases and assumed that the persons were displaced, only to later learn that the suitcases contained looted items. Hon. Christian said that he was saddened to hear that the looters broke businesses that were not compromised by the hurricane. Further he noted that there have been reports that some individuals attempted to ship their stolen items out of the Territory.
The Junior Minister noted that looting fully morphed into theft as people are now stealing generators from businesses. “People stealing generator and furniture – it’s outright thieving better known as stealing or looting,” Hon. Christian added.
Fifth District Representative, and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Hon. Delores Christopher announced that she is flabbergasted at the level of looting she witnessed in the Territory and like Hon. Christian she announced that it is tantamount to robbery.
“Some absolute madness took place, but people should be controlled. It is not us, it is not our behaviour. Whoever joined in or didn’t join in something should be done about it. Some willful acts took place so that people entered and took what was not theirs. It was done to a level that is inexcusable,” Hon. Christopher lamented.
The Deputy Speaker mentioned that the supermarket in Huntums Ghut – A Value that people robbed, and broke into in broad daylight. She also mentioned that businesses in the Pier Park were broken into in a similar manner. “Why should people be able to go scotch free after wreaking such damage?” Hon. Christopher asked as she mentioned that vehicles were also vandalized. In fact, Hon. Christopher stated that people are stealing generators and gas with no remorse.
Ninth District Representative, Dr. the Hon. Hubert O’Neal explained that looting has never happened before in the Territory. He stressed that even though there has been several storms in the past there is no recollection of looting.
In light of the looting that occurred following hurricane Irma Hon. O’Neal opined that in the future a curfew should be implemented even before a storm arrives. The Ninth District Representative further mentioned that looting happened even in Virgin Gorda and targeted popular supermarket Bucks.
“He (Bucks) was broken into not once, not twice, but three times,” Hon. O’Neal said in relations to the Bucks supermarket looting. He said that there was hardly any security measure in Virgin Gorda before the storm arrived, and this sort of thing the Representative said should not happen again. Further Hon. O’Neal said the owner of Bucks is so despondent after what they did to his store that he is reluctant to reopen. The Legislator also said that his boat that survived Irma was later looted in the aftermath of the storm.
Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Ronnie Skelton said that he saw looters on the morning and spoke to some of the looters. He said he saw a looter with a plate set and asked where the individual got it from and was told that the person found the plate set on the ground. He said he also called out to someone who was at a store that was looted and was told by the individual that they were just looking in.
”There were even some police officers I understand,” Hon. Skelton declared. The Minister further noted that he would support Customs efforts to ensure receipts are presented for items being shipped. He noted also that local persons were also witnessed looting.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Andrew Fahie chided that a curfew should have been implemented before the hurricane struck as other countries have done. This – he said – might have prevented looting.
The Opposition Leader said: “This act (Curfew Act) is a result of certain undesirable behaviour…A state of emergency was called in St Thomas before Irma. Why wasn’t it called before? We were left to be a police-less lawless country for three days.”
In noting some of the unfortunate effects of the looting, Hon. Fahie said: “Some businesses are out of business and some told me outright that they have no desire to go back in business. A lot of business people are down spirited and feel betrayed…Because for two to three days we were left unprotected. We need to take a page from other leadership’s page and be proactive…We knew something was coming. When we are leaders leading we have to lead and be proactive.”
Hon. Fahie said that the looting is one thing, but the stealing he said is still going on and it’s going on everywhere. The Leader of the Opposition said that the thieves broke into the community center, and are stealing from boats. Essentially Hon. Fahie said that the looting situation has resulted in a domino effect.
Junior Minister for Trade and Investment, Hon. Marlon Penn told his colleagues “the issue of looting sounds like a broken record, but it is the most devastating effect of this storm. The emotional damage that that has done to business persons…” he said.
Hon. Penn said that he and two other legislators were driving after hurricane Irma and were stopped by looters for rides to their destination with their stolen items. Hon. Penn said as a result of the looting various illegal rum shops have opened and he said that even government workers allegedly stole alcohol.
Premier Smith said that he also saw the looters and said that the situation was something that obviously he would not like to see happen again.