Weeks after two major hurricanes forever changed the lives of thousands across the Caribbean, many are still in darkness as utility companies struggle to get power and other services operational.
Most houses have been damaged, and several communities are without electricity and running water, as crews work round the clock.
Residents of those countries will live with horrors of the storm, as well as the aftermath of the disaster while they attempt to return to normal.
But there is another group of people who are often overlooked in times of disaster – the first responders.
Last month, troops from the Barbados Defence Force were among the teams deployed to islands in the northern Caribbean and Dominica when they were hit by category five hurricanes, each striking within two weeks of each other.
They were part of teams from the Barbados-based Regional Security System (RSS), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Disaster Relief Unit teams (CDRU) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) who were tasked with relief and recovery operations.
Although they are highly trained in those areas, Sub Lieutenant Jamal Crick said nothing prepared him for the magnitude of destruction he witnessed in Roseau, the Dominica capital.
“When we first went into Dominica on board the vessel and you looked into the hills, it looked like a child that had toys and just throw all the toys all over the floor. There were roofs everywhere, parts of houses, that’s how it looked.
“When we actually got alongside the pier, Woodbridge Pier, and we actually got to see how it was physically, there is nothing that people can show you in videos, in pictures to compare to what I actually saw. It was total devastation,” he told the media at a news conference at Barbados Defence Force (BDF) headquarters, St Ann’s Fort.
But the executive officer of the HMBS Leonard C Banfield recalled more than just the physical damage. The suffering of citizens after the storm is something he is not likely to forget.
“I even had a situation where I went on the road in the capital, and a little girl about three-years-old came up to me. I had a bottle of water. She was like ‘can I have some water please?’ and it hurt me because I saw the little girl and [it was like] she was my own daughter, because my daughter is around the same age. I saw myself looking at that little girl and . . . imagining this could have been my child. And I had to give her the water; I had no choice. It was that painful.
“Then I had another experience with a policeman. He said when he was at home all he saw was white. All he could see outside his window was white. His house was so destroyed that he didn’t even know what to do. He came to work, I think about four or five days after the hurricane. That’s how bad it was for them in Dominica,” Crick recalled.
His colleague, Lance Corporal Shane Mayers, had a similar experience when he encountered a woman and her young daughter who were in tears at a security checkpoint in Roseau.
“I went over to her mum and I asked her mum what seems to be the problem. She told me that the daughter [is] thirsty, she’s hungry. She had no food, no shelter, nowhere to go. She took about three hours walking from where she was to get to Roseau.
“I felt very bad. As a father, as a soldier I felt very bad because that young child was going through such pain. I took my water and handed [it] over to the young girl. Before I could even open the bottle of water, she had the water out my hand already. And that really touched me as a father. I had a little backpack on my back with 24 hours of food supply. I felt so bad that I took everything and gave it to the young child and her mum.
“Up till when I was leaving Dominica to return to Barbados, the young child along with the mum sought me out . . . to thank me for everything I had done for them when I was there,” he said, adding that he was also moved to suggest to his wife that they adopt the little girl.
Mayers had witnessed the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika two years earlier, but said that this paled in comparison Hurricane Maria.
“To compare 2015 to 2017, it was total devastation. Dominica hasn’t recovered from the Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 . . . and to go and see what I saw, it’s total annihilation. People can only speculate . . . by [watching] photos or videos. But . . . you have to see it physically for yourself.”
While their work in Roseau has been nothing short of demanding, Lieutenant Shawn Brome said the soldiers were encouraged by the gratitude of citizens.
For me, that’s what keeps me going, to know that I left here, I saw that level of devastation, I saw the need of the people. And even a bottle of water, a simple bottle of water, these people thank you.
“Here in Barbados we talk about we don’t have much. But what little we have here is so much more than these people have in Dominica have right now. And we as a people and a nation need to give more. We need to pour it out . . . . As my guys keep saying, you have to be there and experience it to know. And we’ve got to keep giving. We cannot stop. We can’t.”
Able-bodied Seaman Taria Jackman, and her colleague, Shane Sobers, who were part of the crew of Leonard C Banfield, also appealed to Barbadians to continue to contribute to the relief efforts to the affected islands.
“Keep it basic; water, food. Don’t send clothes. Send things to keep people warm, but don’t send clothes. People tend to send a lot of stuff that is not needed at the time, and that takes up space for more important stuff,” he said.
Lieutenant Commander Graham Rocheford explained that the troops are highly trained to function effectively in such disaster zones, and are also provided with the necessary support during their deployment. They are also placed on two-week rotations “because [of] the psychological pressure and so on and the impact on the personnel in the area constantly conducting these operations. So we try to rotate persons and give them some time off to recuperate from the stresses of the environment”.
For Crick, the training has helped him cope with this deployment.
“It doesn’t really impact you until after the fact that you have been there numerous times and then you have that little one time and it starts running through your mind, the events that happened.
“And it’s all about the training that you go through as well. That helps a lot. Honestly it does. But then you have to look at the human part of it. In my mind I was saying that could have been my family, so that also kept me going,” he said.