Hurricane Maria was like nothing that I had ever experienced before; hence the reason for sharing this with readers.
A View of the Hillsides In the Wake of Hurricane Maria
Emerging Outside After Maria
When we stepped out of the house on the morning of Tuesday 19th September, it appeared that the entire neighborhood had been decimated by Hurricane Maria. My daughter said hopefully, “Mammy, I hope Portsmouth is among the worst hit communities because if other places are worse than here, then Dominica is finished.” She was right! It looked that way! We could see for miles around.No more secret places and private haunts; all lay exposed and bare.
The mountains had been decapitated and lay bare and wasted. The green of the Nature Isle had been ripped away by a malicious enemy and replaced by dry, brown remains of what used to be. The few trees which remained standing looked as if their backs had been torn off roughly by uncaring hands and they were now brown and withered as if they had suffered a long drought.
The entire ground was littered with battered vegetation, zinc sheeting, broken boards, fallen concrete, sagging wires and debris of all types. Buildings were uncovered for as far as the eyes could see. Most wooden structures had been totally flattened while those made out of concrete had received varying degrees of destruction. Vehicles lay overturned on the roadside; some torn and mangled beyond recognition. Was this the work of nature at its most angry? Had Dominica just been punished for things done or not done? We are a religious people, but are we good people?
Landslide and Decimated Forest
Experiencing the Hurricane
The terrible Category 5 Hurricane Maria had hammered Dominica during the late hours of Monday, 18th September into the early hours of Tuesday 19th September, 2017. In some areas the onslaught began as early as 5.30 p.m - 6.00 p.m. In my area,Portsmouth, action had commenced after 9.00 p.m. Wind seemed to be coming from every direction bringing in torrents of rain, battering rooftops, hammering walls, smashing windows, bursting doors with a frenzied cacophony of noises that seemed unending. The wind howled and cried in every conceivable voice - animal voices, human voices; spirit voices, screaming, howling, chanting, crying, gibbering, - what demon storm was that?
My daughter, the 65 year old helper and I crouched beneath the dining table which we had wedged against the hutch for additional protection. As we squatted there in rising cold, rain water, we could hear the sound of shattered glass and what seemed like portions of the roof falling around us. Something heavy hit the table over us and we figured that it was the huge chandelier in the dining room. Another object struck and kept scraping the top of the table; apparently blown back and forth by the heavy winds. It dawned on us that if the entire roof came down over us we would be trapped or even hurt. Maybe we should seek refuge somewhere before it got worse. Worse? That was a terrifying thought! It was extremely dangerous and scary out there. First of all, there was no shelter nearby and secondly it was pitch black outside and zinc sheeting and other dangerous objects were flying about. There were probably live electrical wires hanging loosely about as well.
We prayed for the wind to stop its howling and for the rain to cease. We prayed that the monster hurricane would soon decide to move on, but every time it eased for a few seconds and we grew hopeful, it came back with renewed venom dashing our hopes to pieces. It was not moving; it was just sitting over Dominica until it had annihilated us completely. I prayed that God would spare Dominica. We had not even fully recovered from Tropical Storm Erika which had ravaged parts of the island in 2015.
My most fervent prayer, however, was to thank God for taking my mother in time. My mother had been ill for ten months and had succumbed to her illness the day before the hurricane. She had been bed ridden. It would have been difficult to move her; not that there was anywhere safe and dry that we could have carried her to when we realized the seriousness of the storm. She certainly would not have been able to crouch under the table with us. God had been merciful.
Time seemed to crawl by; never had a night seemed so long! The total darkness and continuous eerie sounds emitted by the maniac winds made it nothing short of a nightmare. We checked the time on my daughter’s cell phone which she carried in a zip lock bag beneath her shirt. It was 1.10 a.m. What seemed like three hours later she checked again and it was 1.53 a.m. How much longer was this going to last? We could barely see each other’s faces. We were soaked, cold, cramped and fearful. Darkness and time were friends of the Hurricane. They were working in tandem to destroy us. The rain beat down ruthlessly, the cold water rising steadily beneath us as the hours dragged relentlessly on.
Finally, at about 3.45 a.m. the wind began to abate and so did the rain. We emerged from beneath the table in an attempt to survey our surroundings. In the thin beam of my small flashlight, there seemed to be fallen objects everywhere. We worked our way over and around broken stuff and tried to clear a path to the bedroom area. All the bedrooms were roofless and flooded out, but with no choice in the matter since it was still too dark to venture outdoors, we cleared space on a bed and climbed onto the wet mattress. There we huddled together to await daylight. It was somewhat better than the cold hard floor with the water rising beneath us.
Not too long after, I thought I heard a call. I listened again and sure enough someone was calling, "Jay, Jay...". It was my younger brother come to the rescue! It was the most beautiful sound that I had ever heard. "It's Uncle Trevor!" my daughter shouted.I jumped out of the bed, my daughter following. We shone the flashlight and frantically scrambled toward the front door. "He can't be serious! He's got to be mad to come out in this devil storm!" I kept saying. We were at the door and he was clearing away stuff on the other side. Then he was inside and we fell upon each other in joy, relief and tears. "You should have waited for daylight," I cried. "You could have been killed."
View of a Neighborhood
Terrible for all, but Certainly an Unforgettable Nightmare for Some
This experience, terrible as it seemed to us, was nothing compared to that of the more unfortunate persons whose communities were even more severely hit by Maria; persons who had to flee for safety in the midst of the raging storm as their houses crumpled around them, as roofs were mercilessly ripped off and blown away. Even worse, were residents of communities where rivers which were once tranquil and calm, swelled to monstrous proportions entering buildings carrying away people, animals, furniture and equipment and depositing tons of sand and debris in their places. Lives were lost and some were spared to recount their near death experiences as well as their having to watch helplessly as their loved ones perished.
Rain and river destruction were, in many areas, far worse than the wind destruction as they caused serious infrastructural damage around the country. The waterlogged ground gave way to massive landslides bringing down buildings, trees and boulders. Angry rivers destroyed roads, swept bridges away, and also carried down huge rocks, trees and tons of sand, causing obstructions and hindering communication. In many areas roads were so badly damaged or blocked that some places were inaccessible for days. All utility services were affected leaving the country without communication, water and electricity.
It was a sad day for Dominica and a day that will remain forever etched in the memory of every man, woman and child who experienced that horrible night. Never again do I expect to hear the excited cry of a young voice wishing to experience a hurricane!