Region makes progress in Ike's wake, but long recovery ahead

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Six weeks after Hurricane Ike leveled several islands in Turks and Caicos and the southern Bahamas, signs of recovery are almost as plentiful as conch shells and sunburned tourists.

Ike slammed ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 6 on Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay, damaging more than 80% of the structures but sparing the main tourist island of Providenciales, and its 2,500 hotel rooms, from major damage.

The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility made its first payment, $6.3 million, to the government of Turks and Caicos earlier this month, under the terms of a hurricane policy that was purchased at the start of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

The reopening Oct. 8 of the Grand Turk Cruise Center on Grand Turk signaled a high point in the recovery effort, according to Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick.

The reopening was marked by the arrival of the 2,642-passenger Carnival Destiny and was followed two days later by the Princess Cruises' Crown Princess.

The $60 million, 37-acre cruise facility, operated by Carnival Corp., is the largest private employer on the island.

Although port facilities are up and running, recovery efforts continue on the rest of the island.

Residents on Grand Turk now have water, but it will be six months before all electricity and telephone service are restored, according to Gov. Gordon Wetherell.

"These are not tasks that can be completed overnight," Wetherell said.

"However, debris has been cleared, government offices are open, people are buying food and other goods from shops, and visitors are returning."

Grand Turk's dive sites suffered minimal damage. Most of the island's 40,000 stayover visitors last year came to dive and snorkel. The island welcomed 500,000 cruise passengers, as well.

Inagua, the southernmost island of the Bahamas chain, was directly in Ike's path. The island's 21 hotel rooms have reopened; the 80,000 West Indian flamingoes and 8,000 parrots in Inagua National Park weathered the storm, according to the Bahamas National Trust.

Water and electricity have been restored, and restoration of telephone service is nearly complete, according to Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.

The situation is far grimmer in Haiti, which was hammered not only by Ike but also by tropical storms Fay and Hanna and Hurricane Gustav.

Although millions of dollars in aid has been appropriated for Haiti, "the damage ...  has set Haiti back several years," said President Rene Preval.

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