While enjoying a peaceful summer afternoon in the wilderness of Eastern Ontario, Canada, I half-listened to the 4p.m. news on the national (CBC) radio station on Thursday August 27th. In this remote area, I had no Internet connection to link me
to the outside world. As I focussed on reading a fascinating book, I thought I heard the word ‘Dominica’ (but pronounced incorrectly) and something about deaths resulting fromTropical Storm Erika. Initially, I assumed that the announcer was talking about the Dominican Republic. The news clip was only 30 seconds long, so I knew that I needed to find out more. Although I had patchy cell phone service, I called my neighbour on the Nature Island, just to be sure about the place name mentioned on the news.
When I connected with him, he told me there had indeed been heavy rains, there was no water or electricity and the land phone lines were down. He told me that little else was known at that moment, as people had been instructed to stay at their homes, and the local media had not yet gathered information from around the island.
By that evening, it was impossible to call Dominica – all phone lines were inaccessible. Instead, I resorted to obtaining detailed descriptions from two sources in Canada: my brother Edwin and my friend Corinne, via cell phone. They are both familiar with the Nature Island, as Edwin has visited three times and Corinne has lived there for extended periods. When they shared what they had read and seen on the Internet, I immediately felt anxious, scared, sad, helpless and overwhelmed. It was tremendously difficult to process this seemingly unreal situation that had unfolded in my stunningly beautiful adopted country.
They told me that 15 inches of rain had relentlessly pounded the Nature Island for about six hours. Massive floods islandwide, mudslides, landslides and rockslides demolished most of the infastructure. Bridges collapsed, trees fell, rivers overflowed, numerous vehicles and some buildings were washed away. Most horrifically, at least 20 people perished and a number of others are still missing. Villages around the island were completely cut-off from each other and the outside world for a few days. Petite Savanne, on the island’s southeast coast suffered the most casualties and the majority of its residents have been either air-lifted or taken by coast guard to a temporary shelter in Roseau, the capital city. The international award- winning Jungle Bay Resort and Spa Dominica, also located in that area was completely destroyed. Thankfully, quick-thinking staff removed 40+ guests just before the ‘mountain fell on it’. They were able to get to a nearby shelter and all were unharmed. In the aftermath of this particular example of complete devastation, 65 employees have suddenly lost their jobs.
There are many more stories, videos and photos online. You need only search the Internet by typing ‘Dominica Tropical Storm Erika’ or looking at Dominica News Online to read about and view shocking scenes of this natural disaster. The Prime Minister, Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit has stated that this tragic event has set the country back 20 years.
It has taken me several days to write this piece, because everytime I started, tears blurred my vision and my hands began to shake. Although I was scheduled to return to Dominica today, I have delayed my departure until either the Douglas-Charles Airport, whose runway was destroyed, is reopened, or the backlog of travellers who are returning by ferries from other hubs has diminished.
Although international media exposure about this catastrophe has been minimal since the passage of TS Erika,relief efforts have commenced, with the much appreciated aid from many countries. Most immediately, food, water and medical supplies are the top priority, along with the rebuilding of the airport. Additionaly, there is much work to be done in order to rebuild Dominica’s infastructure and the properties that were destroyed. This massive project is expected to cost millions of dollars.
I remain a loyal, long-time resident of Dominica who has benefitted tremendously from an improved quality of life and countless adventures in its pristene environment. I would be most grateful if you would consider making a contribution in cash or kind to assist this exceptional country and its resilient citizens during its time of dire need. Please click this link from Visit Dominica. It contains an overview and particulars about making donations to the Relief Effort at the bottom of the page. There are certainly other sites soliciting support in several countries, but always ensure that the source is authentic.
As I listen to DBS Radio Dominica while I write, I sense that despite the complete devastation, there is definitely a prevalence of hope, determination, faith and community spirit. The Nature Island will return to its former sensational glory, and I will be honoured to be part of the process. God Bless Dominica!!!