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IRIN - Environment and Disasters





 



Dominica: A Caribbean island rebuilds “from zero”

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 14:20:58 +0000

In a rare live-blog from the prime minister of a country grappling with disaster, Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit described his own roof being torn off by Hurricane Maria. He has now confirmed 25 deaths and says his small Caribbean nation, population 73,000, will be building back “from zero”. As soon as a fixed-wing aircraft could land at Canefield Airport near the capital, Roseau, IRIN on Thursday became one of the first news organisations to see the devastation first-hand, joining a team of international aid workers assessing needs and offering support. Ben Parker/IRIN At the airstrip, the shoreline is littered with huge yellow tree trunks. Seen from the air, the mountains are browned by the stripping of leaves; a flotilla of thousands more trunks and branches, stripped of bark, bobs in the turquoise waters. In the capital itself, the atmosphere is edgy – a curfew has been set for 4pm to 8am, and there are reports of looting. Several officials say they’ve heard gunshots. Beyond criminality are tension, fear, and trauma, among people jostling to scoop water from burst water mains, still lacking news about their friends and family. Roads are jammed with cars navigating tree trunks, crushed vehicles, and heaps of mud. A new bridge has collapsed. Police and soldiers guard key intersections and sites. Families are on the move with wheelbarrows and shopping carts in shock and desperation. In quieter neighbourhoods, after days of rain, some households are drying out their belongings in the sun. Foreigners cluster in smashed-up hotels, at the stadium, and at the seaport, trying to get a ride out. Ben Parker/IRIN A Nigerian medical student, Adeleye Adeleke, tells IRIN he can’t find a replacement for his asthma inhalers, his landlady’s top floor is gone, he’s lost papers and possessions and he wants out – “right now”. Adeleke says he saw the supermarket at the end of his street being looted but that security forces have regained control and set up checkpoints. But “there’s nothing to buy, no clean water to drink,” he adds. Environmental health officer Selma Charles is “bunking up with a neighbour”. Her house? “Roof totally gone. Everything gone. Totally gone.” On the whole, she says Dominicans are pulling through, although it’s “really sad and painful”. In her professional view, the water safety issue is already becoming critical. “The water started smelling,” she says, adding that dead animals could contaminate the supply.   Sketchy information   With information gathered largely from overflights and amateur radio operators, a picture is emerging of severe impact – estimates of missing or damaged roofs go as high as 90 percent. According to a satellite analysis, even one of the less-affected areas, the northwestern town of Portsmouth, appears to have had 55 percent of its buildings damaged. Ben Parker/IRIN Maria cut power, telecommunications, and drinking water supplies, although one mobile phone network has restarted in the capital and an FM radio station is also on air. Some people’s internet connections still work if battery or generator power is available, according to one radio enthusiast.   Ham radio operators have come into their own in the Dominica crisis, providing a stream of updates from their own homes to a global diaspora and across the island. A relay of a group of radio enthusiasts to Facebook brought hundreds to a nightly call-in by the radio hams across the island. Being the only voices coming out immediately after the hurricane was “a pleasure”, says radio operator Gordon Roy. “It’s a hobby for us, but whenever the time comes for us to provide a service, we are always willing and able to do that.” Ben Parker/IRIN On the roof of the government building in central Roseau, Roy is setting up a new HF radio antenna – the long-distance type used by amateurs and professionals alike. Roy is the vice presiden[...]