Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass January 2018

Dominica After Maria

by Hubert Winston

I do not think there is another country on Earth that has such an abundance of resources, loving people, beauty both above and under the water, and all that it takes to survive on its own as an island - yet is so vulnerable to natural disasters.
Hurricane Maria battered Dominica on September 18th, 2017, a destructive force such as the island had never seen before. Over 90 percent of homes were damaged or destroyed, and more than 31 deaths were reported, with many more people still missing. Before Hurricane Maria there was Tropical Storm Erika, and before Erika there was the Christmas Eve trough - three weather systems resulting in natural disasters within a four-year span. The reality of living in paradise.

Looking at the destructive forces of nature, one can only come to the conclusion that bigger problems will be manifesting over time. Yet, it is unfair to consider storms as being the only causes of destruction. The construction of buildings in riverbeds and near the sea is the source of many problems in Dominica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The situation was born in past centuries when villages to house plantation workers were constructed on less desirable lands, and flat or mountaintop land was occupied by more affluent residents.

This small island of 71,000 inhabitants is feeling the pain of global warming on all levels. We expect about a metre of sea level rise by the end of this century. Just a few years ago, we recorded over 21 inches of rain during Tropical Storm Erika, which we thought was record breaking. Then Hurricane Maria dumped over 40 inches of rain within 24 hours, dwarfing any other rain-filled weather system in the history of the island.

Then there is the human suffering and the trauma of it all. Few people that survived Hurricane Maria evaded the psychological drain that the hurricane left behind. Reports indicate that more than 31 Dominicans lost their lives after Maria owing to stress-related and other post-disaster factors. These fatalities weren't recorded as casualties of Maria, but we know Maria will leave its mark for decades to come. But despite the fact that many residents lost everything, and some their lives, Dominicans are resilient people and show gratitude for all the food, clothes, water and gifts that have been sent to them from all over the world.

Resilient, God-fearing people we are - and what we are not are pirates. A post on social media about two weeks after Maria said that "reportedly" there had been an incident of "pirates" on the open seas stealing relief supplies from yachts and other vessels bound for Dominica. Owing to the lack of communication after the hurricane, most of us on the island had no idea this rumor was spreading. Unfortunately, people started to believe it. Just after mobile phone service was restored, my colleagues and I got several calls about security concerns in Dominica.

I followed up on this alarming allegation and contacted persons who were listed in the original report as being victims of the supposed piracy. One of the boats said immediately that the rumor was false. I also contacted Commander Labarde of the Commonwealth of Dominica Coast Guard and asked him if he had any reports of armed robbery or piracy in our waters after the hurricane. Commander Labarde said nothing at all was reported and they had been doing patrols at least twice a day in some instances. After the hurricane, our waters were overwhelmed with Navy, Army, Coast Guard and marine personnel from nations far and near. Air Force helicopters and planes were flying all over our air space. How could pirates operate, knowing that there were more security forces on our waters than they have ever witnessed in their lifetime?

I am not sure if there is a lesson to be learnt from this, but the desire to quickly share the latest information - even with the caveat "reportedly", but without ascertaining its truth - is one of the downsides of social media. How many boats didn't bring aid right away, or at all, for fear of non-existent "pirates"? Even if shared with the best of intentions, how many lives did these unconfirmed stories affect?

Dominica is one of the safest countries in the Caribbean and as long as we have individuals, organizations and public service sectors such the Dominica Marine Association, PAYS Portsmouth, Commander Labarde of the CD Marine Unit, and many more who dedicate their lives to a better Dominica, people visiting the island will always feel safe.

What To Expect Now

• There are about ten moorings available for visiting yachts. Marcus Augustus is the head of security with the Dominica Marine Association and he also has moorings of his own. Fuel and water could also be collected from the Dominica Marine Center fueling station. In the current absence of the fuel/water dock, take your dinghy to the beach or contact Marcus on VHF16 to assist with fuel collection.
• The Dominica Marine Center, the local Budget Marine agent, is open.
• Propane refills are done from the Dominica Marine Center. If the tanks are left there early enough in the mornings, you will expect your full tanks to return a few hours later.
• A limited number of restaurants are open. You can count on The Loft café near the gas station to be operating this month. Sukie's Bakery is open with fresh breads and pastries being baked every morning.
• Supermarkets are also open, including Astaphan's, S-Mart, Sukie's Mini Mart, ACS Mini Mart – all within walking distance.
• There are ten newly installed moorings in the bay with an additional 40 more to be installed in time for Yachtie Appreciation Week, February 18th to 25th.
• The PAYS weekly Sunday night barbecue is back and tasting even better!
• The PAYS dinghy dock has been fixed and is operational.
• Jeff Frank (SeaBird) will have water off the mooring by mid-January.
• Saturday farmers' market is back and the fish market is also functioning, all in the same area.
• The Fisheries dock is still good, with security for your dinghies.
• Possie Bakery bakes fresh bread and pastries daily, and mini-marts are open all along Bay Street.
See more Dominica updates in this month's Readers' Forum, page 40.

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