The signs of despair and distress brought on by hunger and thirst are everywhere in the Dominican capital, Roseau, as the very basic instincts of a people still in a trance from the battering they took from Hurricane Maria a week ago, kick in.
There is hardly any drinking water in the land of 365 rivers, not much to eat and hardly anywhere to stay.
As a Barbados TODAY team made our way across the city laid to waste by the category five storm, we encountered grown men who were brought to tears by the very thought of their hellish situation.
A group of men and women could be seen in search of anything they could get their hands on. And when they found something, they took it with a certain degree of remorse.
“We loot because we have no choice,” an upfront Martin Dale said.
“It is all hell. I have been crying for days . . . I have been looting food, I have no choice. It is a hard time . . . man, we don’t have not even water. Help us, please,” he said.
Within eyeshot another man was seen running with what turned out to be disposable nappies.
He had a baby, he said, and he could not help but to help himself to the things he needed to take care of the child, while he continued to search for the remaining members of his family.
“I just need pampers . . . I just need formula for my baby . . . . I don’t have anything . . . . The rest of my family, I can’t find them . . . they probably dead,” he said, while the faint sound of a police siren was heard in the background.
Another man, who identified himself only as Charlie, simply wanted some water, which we gave him from our supply.
He was thankful, claiming that there were people out there seeking to profit from the country’s thirst.
“I have been asking for water from the people and they not giving us. They telling us we have to pay for it. A man on the back of a truck just passed telling us a case cost 40 something dollars or more. We have to loot to take home water, food. ”
Along the Dame Mary Eugenia Charles Boulevard and adjoining streets the picture was one of utter devastation.
A vehicle flipped on its roof, debris, tree trunks and cars strewn across the road told the story of the impact of Hurricane Maria, which is now known to have killed 27 people, with at least an equal number still missing.
In between there were people running with bags, while others simply walked with the few belongings they had left.
“We have a lot of work to do to bring the country back. This is a very [messed up] disaster right now. There have been no supplies or anything being distributed. It is madness,” one woman shouted as we made our way to the site of the Visitor Information Bureau and Craft Centre.
The many stalls that were once part of the thriving business area where tourist coming off cruise ships at the Roseau cruise ship berth bargained for souvenirs, were left in shambles.
Over at the well-known Fort Young Hotel, Florida native Jim Wyss said Maria was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
Wyss had left the US to escape Hurricane Irma, which was headed to the American mainland after inflicting its own destruction on the Caribbean, only to be confronted by Maria in Dominica.
Another hotel guest was Barbadian economist Jeremy Stephen, who was scheduled to speak at a seminar there, but was instead trapped in Roseau after regional carrier LIAT cancelled flights out of the country ahead of the storm.
“When the rain and the winds came, it was terrible. The roof on the floor above me went so my room flooded, so it was a choice I had to make – stay in the room or drown. I couldn’t get out . . . but the maintenance guys came. I don’t know how they knew I was there . . . they must have seen the light from my phone but they came and rescued me. Thank God for them.
“They took me and some others to the VIP room which was said to be sturdy but with the rain and wind that was happening, that crashed down on us as well. So, we had to leave there. It was like if you were one of the characters in the Call of Duty video game. You had to be dodging and slipping out at strategic time,” Stephen recounted.
A traumatized Stephen recalled the looting – of the goods the looters would probably never get to use and, later, of the bare necessities of life.
“As I stand here today . . . people are now resorting to finding water. It is very scarce here in Dominica. People are hungry. Many of them don’t have a roof above their heads. Everybody in Dominica has been impacted by this thing. Everybody,” a sullen Stephen said.
On the streets of the capital, General Secretary of the Waterfront and Allied Workers’ Union Kertiste Augustus was catching water to take back to his home, which suffered some damage to the roof.
His primary focus, Augustus said, was the plight of workers, the majority of whom were rendered unemployed by the storm.
“A number of discussions will have to take place at the level of the union and the level of the employers and see what is the best strategy in terms of dealing with this crisis that we now experience,” he said.
On August 29, 1979 a category five Hurricane David battered Dominica, killing 37 people, injuring an estimated 5,000, totally destroying the economy and leaving three-quarters of the population homeless. Many were forced to sleep in the open or huddle in homes of fortunate friends and neighbours for months.
The commander of a British frigate which arrived in Dominica the following day, compared the island to a bombed-out battlefield.
However, Augustus said Maria was “ten times, 20 times, 30 times worse”.
This is why, he said, the country had to come together to plot a way out of this catastrophe.
“It is going to be a difficult and challenging one but it is one that we will have to face,” the former secretary general of Caribbean Congress of Labour told Barbados TODAY.