As the first anniversary of the devastating passage of Hurricane Maria approaches, Dominica continues the slow process of rebuilding, its future seemingly uncertain with many residents still shell-shocked by Maria’s cyclonic fury, said the island’s top disaster manager.
Cecil Shillingford, head of the Disaster Preparedness Unit of Dominica, speaking at the Hilton Barbados at the Rotary Club’s monthly meeting, said the mere threat of Tropical Storm Beryl last month again had citizens on edge as the island was in the storm’s “bullseye”.
“I just got electricity six weeks ago, I still have no internet, no television, the water goes and comes but with Beryl approaching people went into a state of panic,” Shillingford told the gathering.
And if Beryl had struck the island, chaos would have ensued, the disaster management chief declared. He estimated that there would have been an increase in the number of residents seeking shelters.
The ‘Nature Isle’ still had not fully recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, said Shillingford, himself the president of the Dominica’s Rotary chapter.
Hurricane Maria made landfall on the southwest coast of Dominica on the night of September 18 as a Category 5 hurricane, with winds speeds surpassing 160 mph.
The high winds, storm surges and flooding left 31 people dead, with another 37 missing. Eight of ten Domincans – about 65,000 people – were directly affected and nine out of ten homes were damaged or destroyed.
Losses were estimated to be in the region of one billion US dollars.
There was also a lack of domestic manpower to rebuild the island as Roseau had turned to Caribbean neighbours St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Venezuela for help, Shillingford said.
“A lot of houses still have tarpaulins on them and these tarpaulins – they have a lifespan; within six months they start to give in and people are having problems staying in their homes and they getting wet at this time,” Shillingford noted.
The Roosevelt Skerrit administration has made some headway in restoring much of the mountainous Windward Island’s infrastructure but there was still a lot to be done, the disaster response official said.
“A lot is being done but given the magnitude of the impact we still have a lot to do,” he told fellow Rotarians.
While Dominica’s foreign minister, Francine Baron announced plans to make Dominica the world’s first climate-resilient country, the disaster manager said he is now also concerned about the high frequency of seismic activity the volcanic island experiences.
“I am a little worried about this climate resilience because we will not only have to be dealing with weather-related events; we also deal with seismic events and Dominica is very seismic prone . . . Dominica has nine volcanoes that can become active at any time so we need to look at that aspect of the resilience,” he said. (KK)