When Hurricane Maria barreled through the island nation of Dominica, its ferocious winds left a path of destruction. The force of the storm damaged 98 percent of all roofs and swept away 75 percent of the natural landscape. “Imagine water waist-high, and it has brought down all the debris with it. It was terrible,” remembers Moses Lewis, a baker from the island nation.
Before the storm, Dominica was known for its beautiful geography: pristine tropical forests, exotic flora, waterfalls and rivers covering most of the mountainous island. But the 155 mph winds ripped trees out of the ground and sent branches, leaves and debris flying in every direction. It has taken weeks just to clear blocked roads across the island.
Since Hurricane Maria struck, Dominica has lacked clean water, food and materials for reconstruction. “I do believe that we will get through this eventually—with hard work we’ll be able to recover and come out even stronger afterwards. Any help we can get means the world to us at the moment,” says local resident Curvelle Lawrence.
Red Cross teams deliver much-needed aid
Dominica Red Cross staff and volunteers have been working hard since the storm struck to ensure that people receive emergency aid on the island. Teams provided support to local health clinics, hospitals and prisons in the immediate aftermath of the storm through the distribution of hygiene kits, solar lights, blankets and kitchen sets. Dominica Red Cross has also set up water purification systems to provide clean drinking water to communities—and is distributing other basic necessities to families, like food.
And of course, Red Crossers have been distributing tarps to help people temporarily cover their roofs and protect their remaining belongings. “We heard a big bang on the house and then the roof was just gone,” says Rosa John Baptiste, 49. Having heard about the Red Cross tarpaulin distribution, Rosa and her daughter Vijayie Caprice, 11, decided to try to get one to calm her mother down, because “nothing beats failure but a try.”
American Red Cross deploys responders to Dominica
Thus far, the American Red Cross has deployed five disaster specialists and contributed $150,000 towards hurricane relief efforts on Dominica. The responders are helping the Dominica Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) with damage assessments, telecommunications connectivity, reconnecting family members, and are currently evaluating the feasibility of distributing cash as aid. As is customary in the Caribbean, Red Cross societies from neighboring islands including Grenada, Saint Vincent, Saint Lucia, Barbados and Saint Kitts have also sent much-needed relief items.
When communications network are down—as they are in Dominica—reconnecting family members is a critical piece of aid. As such, the Red Cross has also been helping people to connect with loved ones via satellite phones. Ethelina “Angel” Harris, 51, tried to reach her elder daughter Berthlyn, 31, who works in the United States. “I wanted to tell her how much I love her, don’t worry about me, I’m ok, I’m tough.”
Despite hardship, communities remain resilient
“When I returned home after hurricane Maria, all I saw was the whole place in a mess. The TV, appliances, all the loose things got damaged and we had to throw them away. And I have no hard feelings about that. It’s not about us who got a little damage, it’s about the people who lost their lives. What is losing a television when you think of that?” asks fisherman George Grell, 49, who is proud that his village managed to salvage their boats and have already been able to go out fishing.
“Let’s rebuild, let’s try to start to live again. We have life and strength. We have to come together, let’s bring our country back,” pronounces Grell.
Since the day after the hurricane, people have been working hard to clean the streets, repair their houses, and get their businesses back up and running. In downtown Roseau, Moses Lewis empties a wheelbarrow full of mud on the side of the road for the umpteenth time. He is busy cleaning up his small bakery, which was covered in mud. “Many people are asking me if I have any bread for them. I’m hoping to get the bakery up and running in a few days.”