Dominican student Kishelle Codrington is having a hard time concentrating on schoolwork at present.
Since Hurricane Maria slammed into her homeland on Monday night leaving behind at least seven deaths and utter devastation, the second-year meteorology student at the University of the West Indies said her mind has not been at rest.
“I don’t even know how to think, eat, sleep or study. I can’t get my mind settled. I can’t get any work done at school. We have no peace of mind,” she told Barbados TODAY.
Codrington, the president of the Dominica Students’ Association, spoke for the many Dominica pupils at Cave Hill who are troubled at the thought of what might have happened to their families and the country when the storm unleashed its winds of 160 miles per hour on Monday night.
Like other members of the Dominican community here, there has been no contact with relatives or friends, and all the students have are the memories of Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, which killed over 30 people and left behind a recovery bill much higher than the island’s entire 2015/2016 budget.
Like Erika, Hurricane Maria was deceptive, its fury was unexpected and its impact will be lasting.
“I just have a replay in my head of Erika and that alone is enough. I have cried almost every night. I’m thinking about my family. Are they trapped? Do they have water or food? What do they need? It’s heartbreaking,” the young student said.
Too young to have experienced Hurricane David in 1979 – the storm by which many Dominicans measure the impact of weather systems on the island – Codrington said the storm of two years ago had been the worst she had ever experienced.
It brought tears to her eyes as she recalled that system, and imagined how much more damage a category five hurricane could cause.
“Just recalling that is emotional. A lot of people lost everything they had. Where I lived was cut off from the entire island because we have a river separating us and the bridges were gone. We had no food or water, we had to be getting supplies via the coast guard boats and it was just a mess. Children were crying, people had to live in schools for months. It was horrible. It was the worst experience I have had.”
The 24-year-old Codrington last spoke with relatives about 6 p.m. on Monday. Throughout the day those back home had been updating her on the weather, sharing videos of the heavy rain, but never once imagining that Maria would strengthen as rapidly as it did.
Now she is worried because “the small number of people I was in contact with [on Monday evening] said they could feel their houses shaking and they didn’t know what to do.
“I started panicking because I knew there was nothing I could do to help them. I could only imagine what they were going through. We knew that Dominica was going to get a major hit because we were listening to it on CNN, radio and the local news here. We knew that our families were being prepared for it, but hearing that it would be a category five hurricane and experiencing that we know the difference.
“It is mindboggling and frustrating because the only thing we have been hearing is ‘Dominica is not in a very good state right now.’”
After Tropical Storm Erika dumped over 12 inches on rain on Dominica, stealing lives and livelihoods, and wiping out an entire village in the process, the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, had said the storm had set the country back ten years.
Signs of its impact were still evident, but the long road to recovery had begun when Maria visited.
The thought of her island’s progress being stymied ever further was too much for Roanda Trotman, the student association’s vice president.
“It’s hurtful because we weren’t even halfway recovering and getting our lives back together and now come this. A lot of the bridges were still temporary and just know that a lot of the villages are cut off. I can only assume there are more landslides now,” she said.
Trotman, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science with environmental science, said Dominican students have had no access to their bank accounts since the storm hit.
However, the association has put measures in place to assist them, and will also be sending home barrels of foodstuff, toiletries and clothing via the Barbados Defence Force’s Coast Guard Unit.
Meantime, Tabitha Celestine, a Dominican photographer living in Barbados, is going through similar emotions as she too, awaits word on her family’s fate.
Celestine told Barbados TODAY she was “devastated” when it became clear that Hurricane Maria had pummelled her homeland.
“I felt devastated. I felt like we should not have gotten hit again as we have been hit by Erika and Erika left us in some devastation that we are still recovering from. So, when I heard that we got hit again I was like shocked basically,” she said, adding that all she wants is word that her mother and family are safe.