Two days after Hurricane Maria dealt a deadly and devastating blow to Dominica, members of the Dominica Association of Barbados said they were desperately hoping for any credible word on the fate of their loved ones back home.
In fact, the entire Hurricane Maria experience has been somewhat of a blur, with the Dominican community as a whole seemingly “shocked” and left to wonder, “how a hurricane can come from a category one or no category at all to reach category five in a day”.
Communications have been lost since the storm tore into the island with winds of 160 miles per hour, and the absence of any word is virtually too much to take for anxious Dominicans here.
“We have not heard any news as to what is happening in Dominica or what took place in Dominica and everybody is calling, but we have no information to give,” president of the association Mona St Louis told Barbados TODAY earlier today.
“As an individual, I haven’t heard about my family in Dominica and I think it would be the same for all our members,” she stressed, adding that all she had to go on at this stage were photographs which seemed to indicate that the roof of her sister’s home was torn off by the storm.
“It has been very difficult and from what we understand all the cell stations are down so the only communication is by ham radio,” she added.
To add to their obvious pain and misery, numerous fake images and reports have been circulating on social media, purporting to be of the devastation caused by the storm.
This is why Winston Riviere had tears in his eyes this morning after Barbados TODAY shared with him the official reports received from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, which flew in a reconnaissance aircraft on Tuesday evening, as well as the social media post this morning by Hartley Henry, the chief political strategist of prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
“There are tears in my eyes right now. It is really, really devastating, because the fatalities, you don’t know who they are,” said Riviere after receiving Henry’s report that seven people had been confirmed dead so far amid fears by Skerrit that the death toll would rise.
The Dominican national, who has made a life for himself here, said he was particularly anxious to hear how his brother Donny and his sister Ruthine, who reside in Layou in the parish of St Joseph on the island’s west coast, had fared during the passage of the storm.
However, like countless other Dominicans abroad, he has been unsuccessful so far in making contact with anyone.
“We have been trying to make contact from the night of the hurricane to no avail. We haven’t heard nothing and what makes it even worse is that people are calling to find out, ‘Hey, have you heard from your family?’ and I know that quite a few of us have been trying to do that and we have not been successful so far. So it has been a pretty rough time,” Riviere told Barbados TODAY.
Last he heard, his relatives were busy preparing for the storm and while there was no running water at the time, there was little else to suggest the untold devastation that was to come from Maria, which seemingly developed from a category one to a category five in the blink of an eye.
“They were just there waiting. It was still daylight . . . and they just figured it would just pass . . . and then life would be back to normal, but I don’t think anybody expected that kind of damage at that time,” he said.
As he struggles to remain positive, the only glimmer of hope so far has been based on a report from another member of the Dominican community here that she had been able to make contact with her sister yesterday afternoon around two o’clock.
Presumably this was by ham radio or satellite phone, which was the means used by Henry in the wee hours of this morning to make contact with Skerrit, who, like the rest of Dominica, has been severely exposed by the hurricane.
Based on their 4:30 a.m. call, Henry reported that there had been tremendous loss of housing and public buildings, including the main general hospital, which he said “took a beating” with “patient care now compromised.
“Many buildings serving as shelters lost roofs, which means that a very urgent need now is tarpaulins and other roofing materials. Little contact has been made with the outer communities but persons who walked ten and 15 miles towards the city of Roseau from various outer districts report total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops,” he added, while appealing for urgent aid for Dominica in the form of helicopter services to transport food, water and tarpaulins to outer districts for shelter.
He also said roofing materials and bedding supplies were desperately needed for hundreds stranded in or outside what’s left of their homes.
“The country is in a daze – no electricity, no running water – as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities and definitely no landline or cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite a while.
“In summary, the island has been devastated. The housing stock significantly damaged or destroyed. All available public buildings are being used as shelters; with very limited roofing materials evident. The country needs the support and continued help and prayers of all,” he added.
No reference was made by Henry to the state of Skerrit’s home, however the principal adviser assured that the prime minister was doing fine after he was among the first to raise an alarm that his roof had suffered damage during the storm’s passage on Monday night.
“Immediately my niece said to me, ‘well if the prime minister’s roof gone and we expect him to have a very strong home, well I know that a lot of people have lost their roof,” St Louis said, while reporting that Opposition Leader Lennox Linton’s home had also suffered similar damage at the hands of Maria, which, with damage assessments still to be carried out, is already being described as the worst thing to happen to Dominica since Erika hit the island back in August 2015 and Hurricane David
“At this stage I just want to be home. In a situation like that you just want to be in the midst of your people, feeling their pain, crying with them,” St Louis said, adding that “it is not easy to know that between 80 and 90 per cent of roofs in Dominica gone”.
In the meantime, she is appealing to social media users to be sensitive to the plight of Dominicans at this time.
“Dealing with the situation alone is enough but having to see the pictures coming and then after that someone would send you a thing and say, ‘well that’s not true. This is a picture from Hurricane David’.
“It really triggers something, so we would prefer that people don’t do those things,” she said, while pointing out that “there are people who are really suffering and cannot hear about their families but forced to go through the trauma of seeing all those pictures which, when you do check are not credible and that can really hurt”.