Our team was on the island of Dominica for 6 days and saw hope and perseverance in the midst of immense destruction. There was no part of the island that was untouched by the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Blue tarps covered homes, instead of roofs, everywhere we traveled. Villages were nearly washed away by flood waters from many of the 365 rivers. The stories we heard captured the fear and hope of those who survived.
Perhaps the most moving personal account I heard was from a young father with two daughters. As the storm beat against their house in Corona, the central part of the island, the family had to move from room to room to escape damaging winds and flood waters pouring in. Eventually the young family huddled in the bedroom of one of the girls. This young father comforted his wife and his girls and told them, “If we are to die, we will die together.” They rode the storm out together and survived to see the morning.
In Portsmouth, the north part of Dominica, we toured a home that appeared to have only light damage from the storm, a few windows blown out and minor exterior damage. The interior told a different story. The winds of Maria had shaken the roof so badly that even though it stayed in place it was completely compromised and allowed water to pour into the two story concrete structure. All contents of the home were destroyed by water, mold, and rot. Homes didn’t have to appear damaged to have been totally destroyed.
In Castle Comfort, the southern part of Dominica, we stood on the floor of what used to be a beautiful church building. All that was left of the structure was a concrete door frame and a few floor tiles. The nearby river brought floods, massive boulders, and huge trees to the valley wiping away structures and obliterating a nearby warehouse. Remnants of the building were washed out to sea or ground up by the crushing boulders.
From North to South and East to West, no part of this tiny island was untouched. Some areas sustained heavier damage and casualties than others but every house was damaged by flood waters, lashing winds, or flying debris. Trees were stripped of foliage and many of the large centuries old trees of the rainforest were toppled. Those who survived emerged in the morning to see an island that was brown. The luscious green vegetation was stripped from the ground to the tops of the trees.
In the three months that have passed since Hurricane Maria the nature island has already started to heal itself. The ground is once again green with tropical plants of all varieties and the trees that weren’t knocked down are sprouting new leaves. Dominicans have adjusted to the new norm of damaged homes, no electricity, and limited regions with running water.
For me, the most impressive thing was the spirit of the people of Dominica. There is an energy and a positive spirit that cannot be missed among the citizens. They realize that the new norm on the island will last for years. Inconveniences and discomforts will be many but they will take the good with the bad as they rebuild their homes, churches, businesses, and lives.
Based on our trip, food seems to be available on the island and at prices that are similar to pre-Maria. Some of the more remote areas of the island are no doubt a challenge to reach with relief supplies. In locations without running water, stations have been setup by Unicef and other aid groups where residents can travel to get water. Samaritan’s Purse tarps could be seen across the island and Unicef tents were erected near homes that were too dangerous to live in.
I will write more about our experiences next week and hopefully include a copy of the video report from our trip. Let me encourage you to consider making a donation to the work in Dominica. You can contact me through the blog if you would like to donate to the working fund our church is putting together – 100% of the funds go directly to the work in Dominica. There are also other groups that are doing good work on the island including rebuilding water systems and caring for Dominicans.
Officially the government thinks electricity will be restored on the island by the end of April. Perhaps they will get the main routes restored by then, but realistically I think it will be a year or more before electricity and water are restored across the island. Dominica may be adjusting to the new “normal” after Maria but the positive spirit of the people will see them through the challenges that lie ahead.