Workers helping with cleanup approach the island of Barbuda on Sept. 24. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
Staff Photographer

The homes around me had no doors and no windows. Walking down the streets of Codrington, the one and only town on the island of Barbuda, it felt as though a nuclear bomb had been dropped just a few days ago.

In the eerie silence of Codrington, as I was photographing the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, I heard a cat crying. When I approached, it started rubbing itself against my leg. I could tell it was hungry. A second cat appeared from the rubble of a house. And then a third. They were joined by two dogs, all of them following me as I walked the streets of the devastated town. It felt as though these animals were desperate to find their owner or just anyone who would pay attention to and feed them.

I had a pack of beef jerky and a bottle of water. I poured some water for them and started tearing off little pieces of beef jerky for these five new companions. Growing up in Iraq, I would often see children kicking stray dogs and throwing rocks at cats. I never understood why. I have always had an affection for animals. On Barbuda, there wasn’t much I could do. I had to keep working, and it broke my heart.

I joined The Washington Post earlier this year as a staff photographer, and this was my first foreign assignment. I landed in Antigua two days earlier. Getting out of the airport, I expected to see signs of destruction, but Antigua had been spared the worst. It looked like what you’d imagine a tropical island looks like. People were selling fruit and coconut water on the side of the road. It felt like paradise on earth.

But for many people, it wasn’t. For thousands of Barbudans, Antigua was a safe place after what they had been through just a few days ago. Their island had suffered the full force of Hurricane Irma. At the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, I met with some of these evacuees — entire families who were just waiting to go back and assess what was left of their homes. For some, starting a new life in Antigua was their only hope.

The next day, Sept. 24, I was on the Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a high-speed boat that took me and Anthony Faiola, The Post’s South America/Caribbean bureau chief, to Barbuda to see the destruction for ourselves with a local medical and sanitation group. As we got closer to the island, a jewel in the Caribbean Sea, everything felt calm. No one said a word as we disembarked and took in what was in front of us.

I didn’t know where to start or what to photograph first. Everything was destroyed.

Following Jenita and Peter Cuffy, a Barbudan couple working with the Red Cross, we looked for their house. I can only imagine what they felt as they walked their streets, seeing their neighbors’ houses gone. It probably felt the same as when I saw the televised destruction of my home country years ago.

Thankfully, their house was spared the worst. As she gathered a few of their belongings, Jenita Cuffy told me how proud she was of her island and how, even after everything had been reduced to rubble, many of her friends were ready to come back and rebuild. She’s not so sure, though. “It’s just: Where do you start?” she asked.

Garen Cuffy, 9, of Barbuda, plays with Ashley Abbott, 8, of Antigua at a Red Cross center in Antigua on Sept. 22. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

LEFT: Peter Cuffy, 41, and his wife, Jenita Cuffy, 40, walk on Sept. 24 to check on their home on Barbuda, which was damaged Hurricane Irma. RIGHT: Peter Cuffy looks at a damaged tree in his garden. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Jenita Cuffy joins other Barbudans with her family for a prayer at St. John’s Pentecostal House of Restoration in Antigua. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

The damaged town of Codrington on the island of Barbuda in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, photographed Sept. 25. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

LEFT: A damaged Codrignton home. RIGHT: A dead dog on Barbuda in Irma’s aftermath. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Jenny Juceviciute of the Blossomwood Foundation relief effort pets dogs after driving around Barbuda in Irma’s aftermath. Many animals were displaced by the hurricane. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

People in Antigua watch workers board a boat headed to Barbuda for cleanup. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Contractors work at an Antigua building being renovated to shelter Barbudan evacuees. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

A man watches dogs wade in Barbuda’s waters. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

LEFT: People chat at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, a shelter for Barbudan evacuees in Antigua. RIGHT: A boy runs up the stadium’s stairs. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Children’s stuffed animals on a chair at the stadium. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Shipping containers are seen from above on Barbuda in the days after the hurricane there. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

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