A news report on a Florida woman who has not heard from her family on Barbuda and “nobody answers” when she calls brought on some pleasant and unpleasant memories.
First, cell phones do not work when the power goes otu. Wired telephone systems quit working when poles start going down. Barbuda, like everything in Irma’s path suffered “massive damage.” so it is a safe bet the Island has no telephone service. Cell sites with battery backup for power whose antennas survived may handle local calls until the batteries go dead. Sites with generator backup and working antennas may run until the generator runs out of fuel, a few hours at most.
So far, Barbuda suffered one reported fatality. So the advice for those waiting for word from a disaster area should be to have patience and wait. Health and welfare messages will start flowing relatively quickly, the loved ones are probably safe and as well as they can be under the circumstances, and very little can be done to help them until debris clearance gets to the point people and things can move around.