In 2015, after Tropical Storm Erika wreaked havoc on Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit estimated that the rebuilding process could take up to 20 years.
At the time, Dominicans said Erika was the worst storm to hit the island since Hurricane David in 1979, which claimed 37 lives and injured thousands more.
Today, just over two years after Erika, it is anyone’s guess how long it will be before life, as we know it, gets back to normal after Hurricane Maria, a category five storm, swept across the island, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.
No community was spared. It appeared that Maria was not content to cause the usual damage expected from hurricanes; one could assume that her main aims were to strip almost all the houses of their roofs, reducing almost every resident to some state of homelessness almost overnight.
And just like in the days after Erika and David before her, Dominicans are now picking up the pieces of their lives.
Several communities, including those in the south, already affected by Erika, were further damaged by Maria and were cut off from the rest of the island for days.
“Coulibistrie, what happened during Erika occurred again, maybe even worse because of the fact that before Hurricane Maria, that place was also compromised.
“But I can say off the bat to the people of this country, one of the very important decisions that we have to take as a country is to relocate a number of villages in Dominica because it will make no sense trying to mitigate against those disasters taking place, and we have to look at this in a very serious, mature way going forward,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told the state-owned DBS Radio after the storm.
While an official estimate of damage has not yet been given, the initial assessment is grim, to say the least. Infrastructure was not Maria’s only casualty. Agriculture, the mainstay of the island’s already fragile economy, has been virtually wiped out.
“You may have one or two dasheens still in the soil but in terms of agriculture I’m talking about crops, everything [is] gone. Every single thing. So we’re going to have to engage ourselves very quickly with the planting of short-term crops to feed ourselves. And that’s one of the mandates I’ll be giving the Ministry of Agriculture. We need to start putting programmes in place to get people planting so we can feed ourselves with short term vegetables and peas and the likes,” Skerrit said.
Dominica promotes itself as an eco-tourism destination but that sector has also taken a severe battering with several of the island’s hotels now lying in ruins.
The rainforests also fell victim to Maria, that appeared to be also on a quest to uproot as many trees as possible, in an apparent attempt to mock Dominica’s coveted title as the Nature Island of the Caribbean.
Across the island, fallen trees and other debris rendered roads impassable, leaving residents with no choice but to make their journeys on foot. Some spent hours trying to reach their destinations.
Students were just settling into the new school year when disaster struck, and with several school buildings severely damaged, it is not clear when regular classes will resume.
The extent of the damage caused to homes across the island has prompted calls from disaster management officials for a review of building practices not just in Dominica, but across the Caribbean, to minimise the damage.
“Housing, it needs to be looked at in terms of retrofitting those that are still standing to make them more strong and resilient, but at the same time enforcing building codes for new construction, for new houses, to ensure that the roof loss that took place doesn’t happen again,” said Joanne Persad, Programme Manager for Preparedness and Response at the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
But while new building codes are being considered, for the time being many residents will be content just to have a secure roof over their heads once again.