ROSEAU, Dominica, Wednesday September 20, 2017 – Seven people have so far been confirmed dead as a result of Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Dominica on Monday night. But there are fears that death toll could rise as officials get into communities that have not yet been reached.
Much of the island’s housing stock were either damaged or destroyed by Maria’s 160 mile-per-hour winds, according to Hartley Henry, principal advisor to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
“The country is in a daze – no electricity, no running water as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities and definitely [no] landline or cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite a while,” Henry wrote in a message after speaking to Prime Minister Skerrit this morning via satellite phone.
“In summary, the island has been devastated. The housing stock significantly damaged or destroyed. All available public buildings are being used as shelters, with very limited roofing materials evident. The country needs the support and continued help and prayers of all.”
The first aerial footage from the island, put together from a Regional Security System (RSS) aerial reconnaissance flight, shows flattened buildings, fallen trees and strewn debris from the Category 5 hurricane.
Henry’s message, shared on the Dominica Hurricane Maria Disaster Relief Facebook page, gave some idea of the extent of the devastation that is slowly coming to light.
“The main general hospital took a beating. Patient care has been compromised. Many buildings serving as shelters lost roofs, which means that a very urgent need now is tarpaulins and other roofing materials. Little contact has been made with the outer communities, but persons who walked 10 and 15 miles towards the city of Roseau from various outer districts report total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops.
“Urgent helicopter services are needed to take food, water and tarpaulins to outer districts for shelter. Canefield airport can accommodate helicopter landings and it is expected that from today, the waters around the main Roseau port will be calm enough to accommodate vessels bringing relief supplies and other forms of assistance.
“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed, as a direct result of the hurricane. That figure, the Prime Minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities today, Wednesday. The urgent needs now are roofing materials for shelters, bedding supplies for hundreds stranded in or outside what’s left of their homes and food and water drops for residents of outlying districts inaccessible at the moment,” Henry said.
He added that the tarmac at the Douglas–Charles Airport, formerly known as Melville Hall Airport, was not too badly damaged and the strip should be opened in a day or two for larger relief planes to land.
The Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) yesterday prepared a shipment of 250 family packages of relief supplies, including water and non-perishable food items, which were transported last night to Dominica by the Barbados Coast Guard.
Several Caribbean leaders have pledged aid for Dominica, including Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, despite his own government’s challenge of rebuilding of Barbuda which was left uninhabitable by another Category 5 hurricane, Irma, two weeks ago.
While there is still no total picture of the damage caused by Maria, CDEMA Executive Director Ronald Jackson said that based on historical knowledge of Dominica and the fact that the eye of hurricane swept across the island from southeast to northwest, there would be “billions of dollars” in damage, with virtually every one of the estimated 70,000 residents directly or indirectly impacted.
“Anyone [who] understands the geography of Dominica and the complexity or settlement in Dominica, what you are looking at is a potential for significant, significant damage to housing and infrastructure in an island that was already reeling [from the] 2013 December flood rains, 2015 impact of Tropical Storm Erika and several localized flood incidents which would have removed bridges which would have been put in place post-Erika,” he said at a press conference.
Jackson said CDEMA had identified a number of coastal and internal communities around the island which were of particular concern, including the Kalinago community in the east of the island where the indigenous people live, because of the poor quality of housing there, as well as “quite a number of communities along the east as well as on the north which are going to be affected by both the storm surge as well as flooding conditions”.
He was also concerned about the capital, Roseau, where reports emerged that the Roseau River had overflowed its banks.