Cayman islanders accuse government of playing down devastation wrought by Ivan

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The Independent US

The inhabitants of the wealthy Cayman Islands are busily trying to restore order to their lives after Hurricane Ivan snatched the roofs off luxury homes and tore millionaires' yachts to pieces when it ripped through the British colony last week.

The inhabitants of the wealthy Cayman Islands are busily trying to restore order to their lives after Hurricane Ivan snatched the roofs off luxury homes and tore millionaires' yachts to pieces when it ripped through the British colony last week.

And while islanders live under enforced curfews, survive on strict water rations and salvage food from coconuts on the beach, there are growing accusations that the government deliberately played down the damage for fear of upsetting the huge offshore banking industry and putting off tourists.

People are questioning why the Caymans have not received more aid and why the world's media had so many problems reaching the islands in the wake of the hurricane. The three islands, with almost 400 banks and more offshore companies than inhabitants, are the world's fifth largest financial centre. Their beaches and coral-adorned seas also make them a magnet for visitors - more than two million every year. In short, they have much to lose by news of storm-inflicted devastation.

But cover-up accusations have been denied by government officials. "Our machinery has not been enough to open doors totally to the international media," Bruce Dinwiddy, the British governor, said in an interview. "We had no way of telling the world how dire our position was." Hurricane Ivan has indeed come as a shock to Cayman residents, who saw their haven of privilege ripped to pieces last week when the eye of the storm passed within 30 miles of Grand Cayman. The islands, formerly luxurious oases of calm nestling in the north-western Caribbean sea, were battered by winds of up to 200mph and saw one in five of its famously sumptuous houses destroyed. A quarter of buildings are uninhabitable and 80 per cent have been damaged. Security, water, sewage and electricity are yet to be fully restored and rumours of looting and disorder are spreading.

Well-heeled islanders are queuing for food and water; immaculately kept lawns and tennis courts now resemble rubbish heaps, with cars tossed casually on to mounds of rubble. A huge clean-up operation is under way. Extra policemen armed with shotguns are reported to be pacing the streets. Officials say it will be eight months before the Caymans are back to their deliciously genteel selves.

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