Scene of devastation in Roseau, September 19, 2017 (Credit: Unknown)
Originally published as a Facebook note on September 25, 2017
As we contemplate the future post-HURRICANE MARIA, if we are to step into the future with confidence, we should learn the LESSONS from the past. In some respects, traumatic experiences such as weathering a natural disaster on the scale of which Dominican nationals and residents have experienced can leave you feeling hopeless and uncertain of the future few of my insights into how we can benefit and learn from this unwelcome event that has turned the lives of all and sundry upside down, and caused great emotional pain to loved ones, at home and abroad. Hurricane Maria was the 13th named hurricane in the Atlantic tropical and subtropical region for the 2017 season. (Old Farmer’s Almanac. 2017 ) The hurricane season runs roughly from June 1st to November 30 each year (En.wikipedia.org 2017). Beginning early Monday evening, of September 18th , Dominica, also known as The Nature Isle, endured the brutal onslaught of Hurricane Maria, that carried winds in excess of 160-miles-per-hour, with higher gusts. Tropical force winds extended 230 miles from the diameter, in every direction. Moreover, a spiral band of ‘heavy thunderstorms’ with a diameter of 40 miles extended from the hurricane’s eye. The eye was estimated to be about 9 miles in diameter. (Weather Underground. 2017)Because the storm made landfall at night, and did not leave the island until later the following day, one one could say that the storm affected the island over two calendar days.
“ I call upon those with substantial military capacities to lend us the rescue and rebuilding equipment that may be standing idle waiting for a war; Let Dominica today be that war. ….because currently, our landscape reflects a zone of war.”
Prime Minister Dr. Roosevelt Skerrit
LESSONS LEARNED FROM HURRICANE DAVID
In 1979 when Hurricane David devastated the island, I was only 16 years old. When the tempestuous storm passed and I emerged from what was left of our home on Kennedy Avenue, Roseau, my first thoughts were that Dominica would never be the same again. I won’t go into the graphic details of what a category 5 hurricane can do. Because, YOU are veteran. a hurricane survivor. One who lived to tell the story! 38 years later, after getting over that overwhelming shock, and sorrow of hearing the plight of our relatives and loved ones back home. It suddenly dawned on me how the days following the disaster, turned into weeks. Weeks turned in to months. Months into years and finally decades. Until the mountains were dressed in their resplendent finery, the tropical environment was tidy, and the memory of that experience truly became history. All that remained to remind us of David was a school bus lying crushed under a huge African Bao Boa (Adansonia digitata) tree in the Botanic Gardens.
Incidentally, when David struck in 1979, Dominica was barely one year as an independent nation. The country severed ties with the United Kingdom to become the world’s newest nation on November 3rd, 1978 under the premiership of Patrick John. However, political unrest, led to mass demonstrations and the eventual ousting of the John government in a popular uprising on May 29th that year. (Biography.jrank.org. 2017) Oliver Seraphin , who was a member of the Committee for National Salvation, was ‘invited to lead an interim government to prepare the way for full elections in 6 months. (The Commonwealth 2017) Then hurricane David struck! Despite the hurricane, and all the devastation it caused, Dominicans were exercising their democratic right, and overwhelmingly voted The Freedom Party, led by Dominica’s first female Prime Minister,Dame Mary Eugenia Charles on July 1980, less than one year after the hurricane. (Biography.jrank.org. 2017) In 2003, while I was a reporter with the Chronicle, Seraphin would tell me that I was the only journalist that had interviewed him about his experience of the passage of Hurricane David and the aftermath under his watch.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been particularly brutal this year. There are 25 nations in the Caribbean archipelago (TravelRepublic Blog. 2016) Of which nearly half of them have been devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Others fared better suffering only mild damage by inclement weather this hurricane season. The cost of damages to infrastructure and livelihoods, of all islands north of Dominica is huge. Experts estimate that the cost of destruction by Hurricane Irma by itself, is a staggering £7.6billion (US$10 billion) (BBC News. 2017) Prime Minister Skerrit, Went to the United Nations last Friday. There he presented a moving and eye-opening speech at the 72nd Session of General Assembly highlighting the avoidable plight of victims of severe hurricanes attributed to climate change on developing nations like ours. “ I come to you straight from the front line of the war on climate change, “ he charged in his opening salvo. The Prime Minister used the analogy throughout his speech of Dominica being a battered and war-weary nation. Determined to fight against the enemy. He said, “ With physical and emotional difficulty I have left my bleeding nation to be with you here today because these are the moments for which the United Nations exists! “Dr Skerrit took the opportunity to offer his condolences on behalf of the Dominican people to sister islanders who had suffered recent ravages by hurricane Irma less than two weeks prior to Dominica,” To our brothers and sisters in Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Cuba, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and also to those who have suffered losses in our host country, the United States – in Texas and Florida,” He remarked.More importantly, he pointed out that these natural disasters were the result of global warming that is causing the seas and oceans to warm. “Mr. President, he warned, “ to deny climate change is to procrastinate while the earth sinks; it is to deny a truth we have just lived!” he said, adding, “ I call upon those with substantial military capacities to lend us the rescue and rebuilding equipment that may be standing idle waiting for a war; Let Dominica today be that war. ….because currently, our landscape reflects a zone of war. (“Facebook.com. 2017)
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
This morning in a 9am Security Update for Dominica press briefing at the Press Room at the Office of the Prime Minister, Dr Skerrit urged his countrymen for patience and understanding as the government puts in place the necessary mechanisms and procedures to bring much-needed humanitarian relief to the people. He concluded his message with the hopeful clarion call to his audience.“ I just want all of us to understand to be united in purpose, “ he urged, adding, “Do what you can in the circumstances, and the authorities will get to you at the appropriate time. So when we get to you you will already be mobilised doing things for yourself and the rest of us.”
Old Farmer’s Almanac. (2017). List of Names for the 2017 Hurricane Season. [online] Available at: https://www.almanac.com/content/list-names-2017-hurricane-season [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017]. En.wikipedia.org. (2017).
Atlantic hurricane season. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_hurricane_season [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017]. Weather Underground. (2017). Category 5 Hurricane Maria Hits Dominica. [online] Available at: https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/category-5-hurricane-maria-hits-dominica [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017].
The commonwealth. (2017). Dominica : History | The Commonwealth. [online] Thecommonwealth.org. Available at: http://thecommonwealth.org/our-member-countries/dominica/history [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017].
Biography.jrank.org. (2017). Mary Eugenia Charles Biography – Learned Values from Family, Jumped into Politics, Elected to Lead, Formed Tough Government Policies. [online] Available at: http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2901/Charles-Mary-Eugenia.html [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017].
TravelRepublic Blog. (2016). How Many Of The 26 Caribbean Countries Have You Heard Of? – [TravelRepublic Blog]. [online] Available at: https://www.travelrepublic.co.uk/blog/26-countries-of-the-caribbean [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017]. BBC News. (2017).
Caribbean counts cost of Hurricane Irma. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41192158 [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017].Facebook.com. (2017).
Roosevelt Skerrit. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/SupportRooseveltSkerrit/?hc_ref=ARR5sRCshW9lwwuLBAsOjesM1-9bv3ncl1ovEIVTLjgblx381wE9LmIECmzTYsDxe2w&fref=nf [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017].Bibliography
Prime Minister, Hon Dr Roosevelt Skerrit’s statement to the UNGA 72nd session Gadebate.un.org. (2017). [online] Available at: https://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/72/dm_en.pdf [Accessed 26 Sep. 2017]
Disaster Reports : The Effects of Hurricane David. 1979, on the Population of Dominica.
Mona.uwi.edu. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.mona.uwi.edu/cardin/virtual_library/docs/1266/1266.pdf [Accessed 25 Sep. 2017].
Hurricane David’s impact on Dominica.A description of activities related to Hurricane David and the extent of its impact on Dominica and its residents between Tuesday, August 28, and Sunday September 2, given below: