The region’s disaster management agency is reporting that the dangerous Hurricane Maria killed at least six people and caused billions of dollars in damage in Dominica when it pummelled the island last night.
The island has had no communications since it was pounded by the category five tempest with winds of 160 miles per hour, with the last known communication being a Facebook post by the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, around 1 a.m. today.
However, the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) this afternoon reported that amateur radio operators had said that the storm had killed six people.
Executive Director Ronald Jackson said at a news conference at the agency’s Lower Estate, St Michael headquarters that there had been no contact with Skerrit to verify the information or to provide an update on the devastation.
However, he said based on historical knowledge of Dominica and the fact that the eye of storm swept across the island from southeast to northwest, there would be “billions of dollars” in damage, with virtually every one of the estimated 70,000 population directly or indirectly impacted.
“Anyone [who] understands the geography of Dominica and the complexity or settlement in Dominica, what you are looking at is a potential for significant, significant damage to housing and infrastructure in an island that was already reeling [from the] 2013 December flood rains, 2015 impact of Tropical Storm Erika and several localized flood incidents which would have removed bridges which would have been put in place post-Erika,” Jackson said.
So severe is the anticipated damage that Jackson said Dominicans may have to be evacuated by sea.
The CDEMA boss said the agency had identified a number of coastal and internal communities around the island which were of particular concern, including the Kalinago community in the east of the island where the indigenous people live, because of the poor quality of housing there, as well as “quite a number of communities along the east as well as on the north which are going to be affected by both the storm surge as well as flooding conditions”.
He was also concerned about the capital, Roseau, in the southwest, where reports emerged from as early as midnight that the Roseau River had overflowed its banks.
In his Facebook post early this morning, Skerrit, who had earlier posted that his roof had been torn off and he was “at the complete mercy” of the storm, before posting that the had been rescued, had indicated that Dominica had suffered “widespread damage” from the hurricane.
“We have lost all that money can buy,” he posted.
“My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”
Still not certain of the conditions on the ground, CDEMA is hoping to secure the use of a helicopter for an aerial tour of the devastated island, with the expectation that Skerrit would join the tour.
Jackson today announced that a Barbados Coast Guard vessel with response teams, including search and rescue personnel from the Barbados Fire Service, was expected to leave here around 6 p.m. today and should arrive in Dominica between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. tomorrow.
The vessel would also carry essential items such as tarpaulin, drinking water and food packages.
“We are going to start certainly with what we consider to be the essentials . . . the immediate survival supplies that are going to be required to shore up some level of shelter coverage and to make sure people can be hydrated in a situation where they may have lost that. We are also looking at some food packages that can go in immediately . . . [and] blankets. Those are the things we will start with to ensure that people are in a sense of comfort,” Jackson said.
The Regional Security System, including a CDEMA damage assessor, has already flown over Dominica to get a better sense of what was happening on the ground, while there were also plans for a flight by a partner military institution to take a rapid assessment team and possibly one search and rescue person and a communications kit to the devastated country.
Jackson told reporters that following the assessment the agency would have a fairer idea of what else was needed.
Meanwhile, Barbadians have responded generously to appeals for donations to the relief effort for Dominica.
Having dispatched one vessel this evening with items items donated today, the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) will send off a second ship tomorrow.
It has asked those who wish to make donations to take supplies to the Barbados Coast Guard at HMBS Pelican on Spring Garden, St Michael or to the BDF Headquarters at St Ann’s Fort, Garrison, St Michael by 11 a.m. tomorrow.