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Dominica’s prime minister moved to tears as he spoke of damages



Skerrit-at-ABSBasseterre, St. Kitts, Tuesday 21st September, 2017 ( - If ever there was a time when Caribbean togetherness should mean something, it ought to be now.

The sad tale of the people of Dominica is only the latest example of how lives could be ripped apart in just one day. The people of Barbuda too can attest to this.

Put another way, it reminds us of the frailty of life.

Just about all of the 70,000 people living on Dominica went to bed on Monday (18th September), with a roof over their heads, but found themselves homeless by Tuesday morning.

Not even the country’s prime minister was spared. His house was demolished and he barely managed to save his life from the gruesome power of the winds of Hurricane Maria.

These past two weeks have demonstrated just how vulnerable we are in the Caribbean when it comes to the destructive forces of “Mother Nature”. 

First, it was Irma that took its toll on the people of Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Maarten/Saint Martin and the British Virgin Islands, and then less than one week after, it was Puerto Rico and Dominica that suffered at the unkind forces of Maria, which is now recorded as the most intensive storm in history, according to meteorological experts.

But with 15 deaths already confirmed by Thursday afternoon in Dominica, the destruction there has been noted as most devastating. And the country’s leader cautioned that these figures are preliminary.

They don’t have a final death count because rescue teams have not been able to reach many remote communities. 

So far, in one village there are 13 people missing, while in another 3 and another two.

From the aerial inspections he has managed since Tuesday, he said the eastern part of the island received a terrible blow and it would be a miracle if there are no (more) fatalities.

In a very emotional media interview on Thursday, (21st September), Dominican Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, made a plea to the world community to help his country overcome the massive destruction caused by Maria.

He was at the time being interviewed by ABS Television in Antigua, where thousands of Dominicans call second home.

At times, the prime minister found great difficulty finding his words. But it was when he was asked about the most pressing needs of his people that Skerrit could hold back the tears no longer.

He began by trying to list the items that are in most demand. However, he did not get past the first one. He choked and then there was silence, only to be broken by a tearful sob that was perhaps triggered by the misery he had so far seen, as he traveled around the island.

His sorrow was genuine. He simply could not contain his emotions.

The prime minister said as he moved about Dominica surveying the damage, children were asking him, “Why Jesus did that?” He said the Dominican children stated that they can’t understand the situation. 

To date, said Skerrit, some people remain in shelters, others with family, but there are many, he said, who don’t have a place to sleep at night.

In desperation, and perhaps by natural instinct, some are placing their mattresses in the sun to dry, with the hope at least of having something to rest on, even if it is under the stars.

Others have said, Mr. Prime Minister we have no home. And he would carefully remind, that he too is homeless.

There are others, said the Dominican leader, who, at the height of the storm ran from their homes to their neighbour for shelter, but that roof was blown off too. And when they ran to the next house, that roof also disappeared. Worse yet, as they moved to even the next, the same results.

“I just knew that once my roof went, minutes to nine in the evening, that there was gonna be serious destruction in the country because the roof was pretty sturdy”, said Skerrit.

There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And some, said the prime minister, were simply exposed to the elements. Others hid in their kitchen cupboards. 

With the help of his bodyguards, he placed his mattress over his head for protection from the flying debris of his roof.

It was a very traumatizing experience said the political leader. There were things happening around you, but because of the darkness, we knew not what was happening-there was no electricity, “it was pitch dark”.

There is almost complete destruction in the country, said Skerrit. In addition, there is no water, no electricity and no telecommunications, except via WhatsApp.

For his part, he said at the time before and when his roof was being peeled off, he and the prime minister of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne, were constantly texting, and then the connection was lost.

It is therefore difficult for families to reach each other across the island and he himself has had to be shuffling messages given to him by fellow Dominicans, including some overseas.

Access to most of the villages is impossible and he made another appeal for assistance for a helicopter service. Other areas are only being reached by boats.

He asked his countrymen to not allow themselves to be overcome by anxiety and that they should not think that the worse has happened but that they should keep a positive front. “Think and hope for the best and don’t assume loved ones are dead because you can’t reach them,” he advised.

He told Dominicans in the diaspora that if it was one time the 70,000 inhabitants needed their support and help, it was now.

Needed urgently are water, baby food, building materials of all types, blankets, food, tarpaulins, medical supplies and services, clothing, diapers for babies and senior citizens, and much more.


A scene of destruction inflicted when Hurricane Maria moved over Dominica.

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