Today, six years ago, Hurricane Maria, one of the strongest recorded Atlantic hurricanes, struck and devastated Dominica. The monster Category Five storm left in its wake over 30 reported deaths, 33 missing, and more than 4,500 houses destroyed and 20,000 partially damaged.
Unselective in its destruction, Maria was the worst hurricane to strike the island since Hurricane David in 1979. Although the entire island was struck, the villages of Pointe Michel and Loubiere were the hardest hit in terms of human casualties. Among those reported dead or missing, five of the deceased and 12 of the missing were from those communities. Among the dead and missing was a family of nine from the Green Valley area in Pointe Michel when water from the engorged Siboulie Ravine swept away a number of houses with people in them.
According to government estimates, Dominica suffered losses of US$1.37 billion, or 226 percent of GDP.
Many on the island knew the hurricane was coming but were taken by surprise when Maria jumped from a Category Three to a brutal Category Five within just a few hours. Weather experts blamed the rapid development on elevated sea temperatures, which they say was high by a margin of approximately one to two degrees, and other favourable atmospheric conditions such as low wind shear. Maria made landfall at about 9:00 pm with the eye passing directly over the island.
As the hurricane tore into Dominica with maximum sustained winds of over 160 miles per hour, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who was hunkered down in Morne Bruce, took to Facebook to give a glimpse of what was taking place outside.
“We do not know what is happening outside. We not dare look out. All we are hearing is the sound of galvanize flying. The sound of the fury of the wind. As we pray for its end!” he first wrote.
He later gave a description of those who were hunkered down.
“Certainly no sleep for anyone in Dominica. I believe my residence may have sustained some damage,” he wrote.
As Maria continued to unleash its fury, Skerrit wrote he could feel the force of the hurricane.
“Rough! Rough! Rough!” he wrote in another post.
Then the hurricane tore the roof of the building where he was sheltering.
“My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding,” Skerrit wrote.
A bit later he revealed that help had arrived.
“I have been rescued,” he wrote.
Later, Skerrit wrote a lengthy statement on Facebook describing “widespread devastation” and the need for assistance.
The full statement is below.
“Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.
So far, the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn-away roofs in the city and the countryside. Come tomorrow morning we will hit the road, as soon as the all-clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble. I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating…indeed, mind-boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured.
We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds. It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days. That is why I am eager now to solicit the support of friendly nations and organisations with helicopter services, for I personally am eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what’s needed.”
Memories of Hurricane Maria will remain etched in the minds of Dominicans for many years to come.