Hurricane Maria's death toll climbs in Dominica

PM declares state of emergency

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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ROSEAU, Dominica (CMC) — The Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is reporting that at least six people were killed when a powerful Hurricane Maria slammed into the island on Monday.

In fact, a state of emergency has since been declared in the island following the devastation caused by the hurricane.

In a statement yesterday, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said the Commonwealth of Dominica is still isolated with no means of communications and transportation connections to the neighbouring islands.

Skerrit said the French Government is sending a helicopter to the devastated country to provide assistance and facilitate the evaluation of the situation.

The prime minister said with recovery now under way, he has declared a state of emergency and a curfew from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm daily.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, seven people have been confirmed dead, according to Hartley Henry, the prime minister's principal advisor.

“It's difficult to determine the level of fatalities, but so far seven are confirmed, as a direct result of the hurricane. That figure, the prime minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities today — Wednesday (yesterday),” said Henry.

CDEMA Executive Director Ronald Jackson told reporters earlier yesterday that amateur radio operations said the storm had claimed six lives.

He said based on historical knowledge of Dominica and the fact that the eye of storm swept across the island from south-east to north-west, there would be “billions of dollars” in damage, with virtually every one of the estimated 70,000 population directly or indirectly impacted.

So severe is the anticipated damage that Jackson said Dominicans may have to be evacuated by sea.

Meanwhile, Henry yesterday relayed a message outlining the dire situation in Dominica following the passage of Hurricane Maria.

Henry, who spoke with Skerrit via satellite phone, said there's an urgent need for helicopter services to take food, water and tarpaulins to outer districts for shelter.

According to Henry, the main general hospital took a beating, compromising patient care.

“Many buildings serving as shelters lost roofs, which means that a very urgent need now is tarpaulins and other roofing materials. Little contact has been made with the outer communities, but persons who walked 10 and 15 miles towards the city of Roseau from various outer districts report total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops.”

Henry said the prime minister was hoping to make contact with ABS Radio in Antigua yesterday to speak directly to the outer world as to the state of Dominica and its urgent needs.

And in St Lucia, the Red Cross has expressed concern over a communication blackout in hurricane-devastated Dominica, amid emerging reports of at least six confirmed deaths resulting from the storm.

Director general of the Red Cross in St Lucia Terencia Gaillard told reporters on Tuesday that the organisation has been unable to obtain any information despite several attempts to contact officials there.

“This is the first time in my experience — not hearing anything, so everybody is really concerned that it might be very, very bad,” she stated.

“Several companies in St Lucia with business interests in Dominica have not been able to contact their people. Our regional office out of Trinidad was not able to assist because all communication lines in Dominica are down,” Gaillard explained.

According to the Red Cross official, the information being obtained from Ham Radio Operators is very sketchy.

Gaillard noted that a lot of the operators lost their antennas, which further hampers communication.

But there were radio reports Tuesday that some Dominica ham radio operators had been monitored by fellow operators in the United States with news of six confirmed deaths.

Ham radio operator Julian Antoine, residing in King Hill, Cincinnati Ohio told Dominica Radio Wice QFM 95.5 which shifted it broadcast to Texas after the storm, that he had heard reports of five fatalities in the isolated village of Dos d'ane in the islands north, and another in Morne Prospere, but said these were not even the areas hardest hit.

He quoted a ham operator resident outside Alanta, Georgia, carrying the sign-in name Juliette 73 Yankee Hotel (J73YH), on a radio relay as saying that there was significant damage and flooding in the capital Roseau.

“Trees are down in every direction, roofs of homes blown off and others destroyed completely; and on my street between my house and my church, there is absolute devastation, with the roof of a community centre sent flying,” the Roseau-based ham operator reported.

He said another amateur operator who was relaying via J73Charlie Charlie confirmed that the police station in Castle Bruce was destroyed along with sections of the main hospital, and that he had also heard about the deaths in Dos d'ane, and people were walking around dazed — “that's the term he used”.

They also reported widespread destruction in Dominica's second northern town of Portsmouth.

“I asked him on a scale of one to 10 what he thought of the level of devastation, and he said nine,” he told the radio station.

“I was there during Hurricane David in 1979 and, man, it was horrible and now I am hearing that this time it is a lot worse,” he noted.

The first death attributed to Hurricane Maria was recorded in Gaudeloupe when during the passage of the storm Monday, a tree is reported to have fallen on an individual, while there are three people missing.

Dominica remains cut off from the rest of the world since the storm struck late Monday into Tuesday, despite efforts by a CDEMA team to fly into Roseau using a Venezuelan helicopter.

The mission failed when they were told that due to the intensity of the wind the chopper would not be allowed to land safely.

An attempt by Trinidadian authorities to embark on a rescue and rehabilitation mission was similarly aborted.

However, despite the uncertainty, the Saint Lucia Red Cross official said her organisation has been collecting non-perishable items, water and medication to send to the island hopefully by today.

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