After Irma, Barbuda's 300-year-old civilization 'extinguished'

Ambassador Ronald Sanders, the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the United States, delivered a chilling report on the status of his country in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

"The damage is complete," Sanders told PRI's The Takeaway. "For the first time in 300 years, there’s not a single living person on the island of Barbuda — a civilization that has existed on that island for over 300 years has now been extinguished."

SEE ALSO: Jaw-dropping satellite images show historic Hurricane Irma swallowing Caribbean islands

Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda on September 6 as a category 5 tropical cyclone. The 400 mile-across storm entirely swallowed the 62 square mile island and laid waste to 95 percent of the island's structures

RELATED: The worst of Hurricane Irma's destruction

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The worst of Hurricane Irma's destruction
A destroyed trailer park is seen after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida, in Plantation Key in the Florida Keys, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
An uprooted tree that slashed a trailer in half in the wake of Hurricane Irma is pictured at a mobile home park in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Gregg Newton
Storm damage is seen from the air after hurricane Irma passed Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, September 11, 2017. Picture taken September 11, 2017. Captain George Eatwell RM/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Boats wrecked by Hurricane Irma are seen from a plane in Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Waves crash at the seafront Malecon seen from a damaged restaurant after Hurricane Irma caused flooding and a blackout, in Havana, Cuba September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
SAINT MARTIN - SEPTEMBER 11: Hurricane damage on the island of Saint Martin after the passage of the hurricane IRMA through the Caribbean Islands on September 11, 2017 in the French island of Saint Martin. (Photo by Aurelien Morissard/IP3/Getty Images)
MARCO ISLAND, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: An office with the roof missing is seen after Hurricane Irma passed in Marco Island, Fla. on Monday, Sept 11, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILIPSBURG, ST MAARTEN - SEPTEMBER 11: Franklin Sosa from San Pedro Macoris, Dominican Republic, walks past a split palm tree on September 11, 2017 in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. The Caribbean island sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
NAPLES, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: A man walks through a flooded street in a rural part of Naples the morning after Hurricane Irma swept through the area on September 11, 2017 in Naples, Florida. Hurricane Irma made another landfall near Naples yesterday after inundating the Florida Keys. Electricity was out in much of the region with extensive flooding. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
EAST NAPLES, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: A home is shown damaged after Hurricane Irma hit the area on September 11, 2017 in East Naples, Florida. Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm on Sunday, lashing the state with 130 mph winds as it moved up the coast. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Housing insulation is seen floating in flood water in a mobile housing park after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Florida, U.S. September 11, 2017 REUTERS/Stephen Yang
A bedroom is seen in a mobile housing park after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Florida, U.S. September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: Justin Hand navigates storm surge flood waters from Hurricane Irma along the St. Johns River on Sept. 11, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Flooding in downtown Jacksonville along the river topped a record set during Hurricane Dora in 1965. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: The St. Johns River rises from storm surge flood waters from Hurricane Irma on Sept. 11, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Flooding in downtown Jacksonville along the river topped a record set during Hurricane Dora in 1965. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
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“This was a huge monster,” Sanders added. “The island and the people on the island had absolutely no chance.”

Residents evacuated to neighboring Antigua where they are being housed in shelters. The only living creatures on the island are now pets and livestock. The organization World Animal Protection is attempting to feed and rescue the animals.

Sanders told PRI he estimates that reconstruction could cost $300 million, and will take time. That's because rebuilding Barbuda won't be a simple matter of replacing what was once there. Instead, Barbuda must be reconstituted for a world in which another Irma might be possible.

Hurricane Irma struck Barbuda as a ferociously intense Category 5 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. 

The ambassador called upon the international community to provide aid, because Barbuda simply does not have the resources to rebuild. The GDP of Barbuda is $1.4 billion, compared to the United States' $18.57 trillion

“We have declared a state of emergency in Barbuda because it is a complete disaster and uninhabitable,” he says. “We cannot cope with our own resources alone.”

He also explicitly linked the need for assistance to climate change. By raising sea levels and increasing ocean and air temperatures, global warming can increase the damage wrought by hurricanes. Irma, for example, was the most powerful storm on record to strike the northern Leeward Islands, and the most powerful ever observed in the Atlantic outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. 

Because developed nations disproportionately contribute to global warming through their emissions of greenhouse gases, Sanders indicated that aid is an economic imperative.

“We believe climate change is here to stay — it’s a reality, despite all of the naysayers,” he says.

“We know that these things have occurred as a result of the profligacy of the countries that are rich and have abused the system. We, unfortunately, who contribute less than naught point naught percent of pollution of the world’s atmosphere, are the world’s greatest victims.”

If you want to help Barbuda rebuild, check out how to assist with Hurricane Irma recovery here.

Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman contributed reporting.

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