The roads continue to be unstable as proved by the Canefield cliff that came down dramatically, blocking the main road and trapping our driver, Curt who was injured in a vehicular accident on one side. He eventually got to casualty by means of a boat and a scooter, only to find the orthopedist had packed up and gone home, leaving him to choose to be admitted into the corridor to have his fractured hip seen in the morning or, to go home and attempt to go to private physician the next day.
Usually this October / November period is enjoyed by all as Independence time. We celebrate Dominica’s achievement and long service of public spirited individuals while also enjoying the World Creole Music Festival, dance, music and food which is a curious mix of creole and African cultures. In spite of the blocked roads, lack of utilities and food shortages, there was a great turnout at the stadium and people of all ages enjoyed the Prime Minister joining his village dance troop in his suit and tie to celebrate.
Merry Christmas to all, from Lifeline - Tina, family and our wonderful staff.
With the roads finally cleared of mud and debris sufficiently to allow traffic through, we set off to make contact with friends around the country. In St Joseph, Our adopted daughter's Aunty and Granny were safe and sound Our friend Royette, with her eleven children, were sheltering in the foundation of their home, their new wooden house completely blown away. However she proudly showed me that the new toilet was still intact!!! It was interesting to see how the country villages were much cleaner and more organised than the urban area... much stronger sense of community and calm.
The City of Roseau continued to feel troubled with foreign police officers in camouflage directing traffic up dead ends and causing gridlock and arresting teenagers for being out after curfew! Several escaped prisoners were recaptured one was shot dead for resisting arrest and another had his knee cap shattered. Jamaican police don't joke. After four weeks people began to return to work but there was a pervasive sense of shock and disbelief as most houses had lost their roof and there was a sense of panic when it rained or blew heavily. even at the Fort Young operations Centre that had a dozen areas where water dripped through.
Fort Young never closed. The staff were traumatised as the owner of the hotel was injured at his home in a landslide and was flown out and one of the security officers died during the first week. Many of the buildings were wrecked, so about half of the staff were laid off.
Lifeline provided some counselling at that time at the hotels. Counsellor. Honestly, I was probably not the best as I was traumatised myself. When food is uncertain and water not easily available and one can see the sky through where their roof once was, it is not always the right time to be pushed to think about what just happened. Normal trauma debriefing seems incongruous as the trauma is ongoing. What I needed was my friends to call and the phones would not work. And there was little access to my beloved Facebook.
For the past several days, with the help of a steady stream of British Rapid Deployment Team members, the many distressed British nationals on-island when Maria struck who were now mostly located, advised and being supported; I was dropping on my tracks, tired. Besides sleeping poorly our concerns about Ben’s health, following his trip to hospital episode. Of additional concern was Ben’s immediate future on Dominica and his purist of furthering his education now that Dominica State College was fully nonoperational. We began wondering and planning on how we could get him to his grandparents’ in the UK.
Meanwhile, the young Rapid Deployment Team members repeatedly borrowed and ran off with my written records of departing Brits to "to place those departing into on their computer system." The problem was I did not always get my little books of information with so much valuable information immediately back and, with no phones, electricity or internet, the ancient system of writing things down had become very important to my sanity. When they took my written books for a third time I am not afraid to say I wept!
Now we could focus my effectively on locating the Lifeline families and clearing out the office which was drenched with rainwater, scattered leaves and papers courtesy of office’s glass doors being destroyed; first blown inwards, then outwards with passing of the hurricane’s eye.
We focused on making home and office functional and welcoming by cleaning up and managing to get the mostly missing roof covered with 13 tarpaulins. With roads still full of debris and fallen electrical cables we continued to carefully venture out to assist those needing help with recovery....
Ben was not well.... high fever 104 and a cut on his leg.... I was panicking about leptospirosis ... we went to the hospital manned by hospital staff from all around the region, not just Dominica. While we waited, as a distraction, we tried to identify the different speaking accents. Finally, Ben was diagnosed with strep throat. There was a room set up with a generator powered air conditioner for those with high fever, but no bed was available. So, I put him on four chairs in the foyer; we could see the stars through the broken roof. Two bags of IV drips and antibiotics later, I took him home before he could something else.
Soon, I again found myself the acting tour guide and we traveled t to Soufriere by boat to look for British passport holders whose children in the UK had reported them missing. We went to look for four and found, 31!
Our next stop was the village of Grandbay. This town is on the Atlantic side and the genteel little boat and wading to the shore that we had done at Soufriere was not on to be done here. We were bundled into life jackets and climbed into an inflated raft which shot down a ramp into the sea only to be flung back on board by an energetic wave. On the second attempt we slid fully into the sea.
When we got to shore I left the soldiers with their guns on the beach and went in search of friends. Many people were sitting on the seawall hoping we had brought food and water. Fortunately, I was able to find the owner of a bus and, by promising that I would pay him if the soldiers did not come up with fare. With help from the transport we made it to the Parliamentary representative’s house where we found the 12 reported missing Brits. The next day we found 70 more!. Several were taken out and the high commission contacted their relatives to arrange tickets back to the UK.
However the helicopter landed on a patch the size of a handkerchief and I was given the command: "Go. Go. Go.” ...and I was out the door, wading through matted grass and falling over broken tree limbs and getting up every few steps. I must have looked like a mixture of Darth Vader and Michelin man!
The couple were waving and shouting and, when they realised it was me, possibly from the way I was shouting out... Is the kettle on?" ...we had a rapturous meeting. They were amazingly untouched and there was evidence of wine drinking and bread baking and she gave the rescuers samples of her art work.
Before leaving them behind, their being secure enough to stay in their home, they showed us a solitary ginger lily that had not been broken. ...a sign of hope!
We scrambled back to the helicopter and left. I was deposited back on the port where I received twelve boxes of Pampers to deliver with love to families in need, from the Navy.
Subsequently the faithful Colonel Buck and his 10 merry soldiers were detailed off to support me in helping a group of 35 mostly vulnerable Brits to catch the ferry to St Lucia.
These folks had a trying time in the hot sun and were eventually bumped off the ferry by a group of Nigerian students who had somehow booked online. The soldiers kindly donated their rations and water and eventually, gently ferried these exhausted old and disabled people by helicopter to the ship. They wined and dined and medically examined those who needed it and kept them safe overnight and eventually got them to Barbados, linking them with their families who were now able to help them back to the UK.
They got used to my eccentric announcements... "Now I am going to tell you another possible lie.....on the basis that everything I have said thus far has possibly been wrong or subject to change." And the best one, "Please take down this number: 1-767-235-8367, my number -- for you to call me when you get home!"
From day 4, post Maria, my life changed and with my flowery honorary consul sunhat on and British label round my neck, I was to be found at the stadium’s temporary heliport or at the port’s temporary ferry terminal trying to help British passport holders get off the island. Holiday makers, people visiting their families the elderly and disabled and some residents whose homes were quite simply gone, needed advice and information which was hard to come by.
I will never forget the family who, with only a backpack each, had had their beautiful home collapse around them, who in trying to get off the island, had run from the stadium to the port and then back to the stadium (per delayed messages I’d received via the sat phone), finally escaping on a huge helicopter... all they while having only military rations to eat for days.
The British told me to look out for the Chinooks!!!! ....huge helicopter transporters with two propellers and Union Jacks on the undersides. Sure enough we saw them come in and land in the direction of the sports stadium.
On day 3, Thursday, my daughter, Miriam, with her bandaged ankle and our house guest Serena, went to investigate. Serena was due to fly back to the UK on Friday and we could not get the car more than 200 yards from the house!
Our daughter is a chip off the old block and apparently approached the British military and was told to come with a case and her passport and that she and others they could be evacuated that day. What a rush!! Before we knew it they were gone and were safely in Barbados with tickets to the UK. By Saturday they were in the UK.
This was the beginning of two extraordinary weeks of being the Focal point for British Nationals in distress........
On September 18, 2017, we were home. Harry and I were enjoying having our family, Renatta 27 (our adapted daughter), Miriam 21 (our daughter) and Ben 18 (our son) and their friend Serena from London with us. We had weathered Hurricane Irma a few days earlier unscathed and had collected relief for friends in BVI and Martin.
We were prepared for a few days of interrupted utilities and tinned food. We had brought things in off the verandah. We have a two story building and so felt safe in our downstairs home. We played cards by lamplight and hoped the reports that Maria was strengthening and heading for us were inaccurate.
We could hear the wind howling and water was coming in under the door we moved the furniture and got mopping! I noticed water coming in round every little pane of glass in the paneled door.
Suddenly the back door exploded o to pieces and flying glass and wood flew across the room towards Miriam. I sheltered Serena against the fridge! Ben, such a hero, took her from me and bundled us both into his room and reached Miriam covered with tiny pieces of glass and pushed us all into an inner bedroom to meet Renatta. His door slammed. Then I realised Ben was not with us .
I don't know what came over me but I ripped that door apart! My boy was holding the double doors closed against the howling wind. "Mum! Mum! Take my TV" no time to argue, I grabbed it off the wall and dumped it on the bed in our dry room. Only then would he leave the doors and what was a tornado churning the kitchen appliances and leaves and even the popcorn ceiling covering, into a liquidized mess.
Harry appeared, having been nearly blown away through the front door when the house became a wind tunnel. We held the doors and tended to Miriam's cut leg and banged head. It could have been much worse. Blood makes everything scarier! I was not sure that she had not cut a blood vessel! I used Harry's handkerchief to make a tourniquet.
The eye came and Ben and Renatta ventured into the kitchen and found the dogs and Kitten, first aid box and food! We had No idea how long we would be stuck in that room. The wind started up again and I covered the window with a blanket lest it burst too.
The bleeding from Miriam's cut stopped and I dressed the wound as best I could. We had the devices in a suitcase. Water was coming in under the doors. Time crawled. It was only 10pm. Would life ever be the same?
By 2am the wind had stopped and I saw lights flashing outside at 3.00, it was the police in Batman capes, probably checking the Minister of Public Works next door. We had no doors! "Officer, over here! We’re here. Five of us; one hurt." Stay put, don't venture out until daylight, was the advice. His name was Mason. He brought reassurance that we were not the only ones left alive.
At daylight we saw our place was trashed. A broken window was patched and taped with black gaffer by Harry in the middle of the drama. Broken glass from photos and windows was all over the floor in inches of water with chopped up leaves. Where did the dirty sand come from? OMG the cat litter tray!!!!!
Every tree in the garden was torn up! A small chicken was mortally wounded! The car and truck were scratched and dented but basically Ok. Next doors windscreen smashed. The galvanized roofing from the roof was a hundred yards away and the front door in the drive. Telegraph poles and wires and debris were blocking all the roads. People were emerging dazed! The place usually so lush and green. Bald! Literally it looked as though a bomb has exploded leaving almost every house roofless....
I had to get Miriam to the hospital expecting half a dozen stitches. We negotiated all the barriers and met the Prime Minister inspecting the damage. At casualty, which was under six inches of water, we were told that it was safer not to stitch after 12 hours and to give her antibiotics and dress every two days. Hmmmm! I was panicking about infection but have three days’ supply of pills.....
I found the High Commission satellite phone which does not really hold charge and tried to call Barbados from a vantage point in a fallen tree. “We are alive! ......No, everything is Not OK.”