UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Two-time Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro came to the United Nations on Monday to appeal to all countries and organizations to help rebuild the devastated Caribbean island of Barbuda and ensure that "paradise is not lost."
De Niro spoke at a hastily called meeting on Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record. The meeting of top U.N. officials and government leaders from several hard-hit Caribbean countries came ahead of the annual global gathering of the world's leaders at the U.N. General Assembly which opens Tuesday.
Irma wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, including damaging or destroying an estimated 90 percent of the structures on the small island of Barbuda, which is home to about 1,400 people and the site of a resort co-owned by the actor.
De Niro recalled Barbuda as an "unspoiled beauty, a paradise found" on his first visit years ago. Now, he said, "we have a humanitarian crisis, an entire island destroyed."
"We must act together to help the most vulnerable," De Niro said. "The recovery process will be a long, hard road. Barbudans must be a part of it, their homes repaired stronger, rebuilt stronger, new homes stronger. The immediate needs — power, water, food, medical care, animals sheltered — must be met."
De Niro and James Packer, son of the late Australian media mogul Kerry Packer, bought the K Club Resort last year and renamed it the Paradise Found Nobu Resort.
De Niro spoke of all the "warm and friendly" people he has gotten to know on Barbuda who were "looking forward to a new resort and jobs and future for them and their children." He did not say how the hurricane affected the resort.
The governor general of Antigua and Barbuda, Rodney Williams, told the meeting that when Irma thundered through, "immediately Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable."
"Its ferocity forever changed the landscape of Barbuda, and as the sun rose the next day the destruction was horrific," he said.
He noted that the entire population has been moved to nearby Antigua. "For the first time in over 300 years, there is today not a single human being living on Barbuda."
Williams said the preliminary estimate for rebuilding Barbuda is $300 million, which represents more than 20 percent of the country's GDP.
"Barbuda is not a lost cause," Williams said. "We can re-establish the island, better and more secure as a productive tourism center and as a safe homeland with which its inhabitants are desperate to reunite."
But he said Antigua can't rebuild Barbuda alone and he echoed De Niro in urging governments, international financial institutions and development agencies "to help us in this virtuous and vital cause."