Walking through the streets of Coulibistrie, littered with rubble, rocks and debris, it’s not far-fetched to believe that someone put dynamite to the mountains and just indiscriminately blasted the rocks, because it seemed like it rained rocks in that village.
In fact, they were the remnants of a raging river that had no mercy. The water climbed a 12-foot wall made its way through the village taking everything in its path, including vehicles and homes. What was a babbling brook, approximately ten feet wide, became a body of water several hundred feet in width.
Cars that were moved to the basketball court for safety when the rains began to pour on the morning of Thursday, August 27, 2015 were buried in silt. The Primary School was inhabitable; the water moved everything in its path – fridge, partitions, blackboards, desks, chairs and cupboards to one corner, all piled one on top of the other. The new library donated by the Rotary Club of Roseau was inundated with water, computers destroyed, material salvageable.
Rolson Charles, a resident of the community, said it how he saw it when Erika struck.
“In the morning there was some rain for about four to six hours and then the river just swell and all of a sudden it just burst in all corners,” he recalled. That’s the first time I ever see that. I was thrown on top of a kitchen. I could see houses and a lot of vehicles going down the river into the sea. I had to rescue my girlfriend through a window. Right now we have a lot of homeless people. They lose their houses and everything in the houses.”
His friend, Carrington Phillip, said the events of the morning have left him baffled.
“I just couldn’t understand what was happening in the village because I, myself, I at the back road, up, and my house end up in the middle of the river,” he noted. “When I see I in danger, I’m a brave man but I go on my porch and I start to tremble because first time I see that in my life. I raise Coulibistrie from a little boy and I never thought water would pass where I living and if you had go on the street just next to my porch, you would wash away. There was nobody that would survive that. I just see cars running by my yard going down.”
Carrington had to tie his vehicle to the back of his house and that’s the only reason he has one today. He was one of the lucky ones along with Barbara Phillip, District Development Officer for the Western District.
“I was awakened by my neighbour who asked me to move my vehicle from the side of the road since we were close to the river,” Phillip said. “I moved it to higher ground. Then in a little while they told us that the vehicle was going down into the river so my husband and son went to take care of that. Luckily one vehicle jammed on a wall and then one jammed against the other and another one blocked them from going down.”
Approximately 50 vehicles in Coulibistrie were lost to Erika. The community has two garages and all the vehicles that were there got carried away by the river; a bus was washed away and a dumper sits on the sea bed a few feet from the water’s edge. One home travelled several hundred feet and sits on the Bayfront as though it was planted there.
Silt and sand were piled high to the window sills of nearly every home that had a ground floor. Some residents got cuts and bruises and some cuts have been infected as they did not receive medical attention in a timely manner. The Health Centre is directly in the disaster area so it’s not functional but a temporary facility has been set up at the Catholic Presbytery. Their water lines are badly damaged. The police station is being used for relief distribution and as the main point of contact for the community.
For the people of Coulibistrie, Barbara Phillip said, life will not be the same. Approximately 109 families were affected and only about 20 of these sleep at their homes now. Persons have been relocated to Salisbury, Grand Savanne, Morne Rachette and as far as Canefield. Phillip stated that persons are traumatized and she doesn’t see their life returning to normal, at least not within the next couple of months.
But with the help of her team, Glenroy Toussaint, Kathy Roberts from the Local Government Department, Hector John – Parliamentary Representative, Ericson Robinson – Chairman of the Village Council, the Councilors who assisted, the Police Officers, DOMLEC for working tediously to restore electricity to the area, Kelver Darroux and the people of St. Joseph, Paix Bouche and Portsmouth, among others, Phillip is confident that the baby steps they make today will get them to where they want to be in time.