A couple of days ago, the Peace Corps evacuated all personnel from Dominica, including my youngest daughter. She rode on a fishing boat, boarded at the only functioning wharf, to St. Lucia, four hours away. We were finally able to speak to her — via Facetime — late Thursday night. Right after we spoke, she posted this on Facebook:
Just got to St. Lucia. I’m fine. Please keep Dominica in your thoughts. The country is completely devastated. I don’t even want to explain the apocalyptic catastrophe we witnessed today on the way out. It is utterly heartbreaking. I can only rest knowing that the strength of the Dominican people will prevail.
The Peace Corps will spend the next 45 days assessing whether to send personnel back in.
That’s great for us, because it means my daughter will be coming home this week. But she and others are terribly worried about their friends left behind — whom they can’t contact. As I understand it, they were evacuated in large part because the places where they stayed were destroyed, as well as the places where they worked, such as schools and other public facilities. My daughter didn’t get the chance even to see the village where she lives — she was evacuated straight from the hotel in Roseau where the PC folks had sheltered during the storm. But she’s heard that 95 percent of roofs in her community were destroyed.
In other words, Dominica is for the moment in dire need of different kinds of help than what the Peace Corps folks were there to provide. Right now, they need food, water, tarps to replace roofs, electrical power, basic communications. Everything is down.
For a powerful evocation of the situation, see the speech above that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit delivered at the United Nations on Saturday. The video is above. Here are excerpts:
I come to you straight from the front line of the war on climate change….
Mr. President warmer air and sea temperatures have permanently altered the climate between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
Heat is the fuel that takes ordinary storms – storms we could normally master in our sleep – and supercharges them into a devastating force.
In the past we would prepare for one heavy storm a year.
Now, thousands of storms form on a breeze in the mid-Atlantic and line up to pound us with maximum force and fury.
Before this century no other generation had seen more than one category 5 hurricane in their lifetime.
In this century, this has happened twice…and notably it has happened in the space of just two weeks.
And may I add Mr. President, that we are only mid-way into this year’s hurricane season….
We as a country and as a region did not start this war against nature! We did not provoke it! The war has come to us!!…
While the big countries talk, the small island nations suffer. We need action….and we need it NOW!!
We in the Caribbean do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols. We do not pollute or overfish our oceans. We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle.
But yet, we are among the main victims…on the frontline!
I repeat – we are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others!
Actions that endanger our very existence…and all for the enrichment of a few elsewhere.
We dug graves today in Dominica!
We buried loved ones yesterday and I am sure that as I return home tomorrow, we shall discover additional fatalities, as a consequence of this encounter.
Our homes are flattened!
Our buildings roofless!
Our water pipes smashed…and road infrastructure destroyed!
Our hospital is without power!…and schools have disappeared beneath the rubble.
Our crops are uprooted.
Where there was green there is now only dust and dirt!
The desolation is beyond imagination.
Mr. President, fellow leaders – The stars have fallen…..!
Eden is broken!!…
The time has come for the international community to make a stand and to decide; whether it will be shoulder to shoulder with those suffering the ravages of climate change worldwide; Whether we can mitigate the consequences of unprecedented increases in sea temperatures and levels; whether to help us rebuild sustainable livelihoods; or whether the international community will merely show some pity now, and then flee….; relieved to know that this time it was not you….
Today we need all the things required in a natural disaster that has affected an entire nation.
We need water, food and emergency shelter.
We need roads, bridges and new infrastructure.
But we also need capabilities of delivery….
I call upon those with substantial military capacities to lend us the rescue and rebuilding equipment that may be standing idle waiting for a war; Let Dominica today be that war. ….because currently, our landscape reflects a zone of war.
The United States has already committed some of its military resources to helping. This release was sent out by U.S. Southern Command on Friday:
MIAMI — U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) directed the U.S. Navy amphibious ship USS Wasp to the Leeward Islands, where it will support U.S. State Department assistance to U.S. citizens in Dominica, as well as U.S. foreign disaster assistance requested by Caribbean nations impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The ship’s arrival will expand the mission of Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands (JTF-LI), which deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico Sept. 9 to support U.S. relief operations in St. Martin. To date, the task force has purified more than 22,000 gallons and distributed more than 7,000 gallons of water, delivered nine water purification systems, as well as high-capacity forklifts and vehicles to help the Dutch and French governments offload and distribute aid to the island’s residents.
USS Wasp arrived off the coast of Dominica today with two embarked SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters, bringing the total military helicopters flying missions for the task force to 10.
The task force is scheduled to begin its support to USAID-led assistance to the government of Dominica over the next 24 hours.
The airlift and transport capabilities of amphibious ships make them uniquely suited to support the delivery and distribution of much-needed relief supplies, as well as transport humanitarian assistance personnel in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster….
Beyond that, I’m concerned at the moment about whether our country is adequately responding. The release says Wasp is there to support “USAID-led assistance to the government of Dominica.” But elsewhere, I read that USAID has so far allocated only $100,000 to the effort, according to Dominica News Online:
Working through the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Government of the United States committed USD$100,000 to provide immediate humanitarian assistance, and will be working closely with the Dominica Red Cross to address the most critical needs. According to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), 100 percent of the country was affected by Maria’s Category 4 fury, with approximately 56,890 persons impacted….
One hopes that’s just the beginning of what we do — funding needs assessment before sending the real help. The Brits — Dominica was once a British colony — had needs-assessment people on the ground last week, and now they’ve pledged £5 million. Which is more like it.
In the meantime, if you’d like to do something personally to help, here are a couple of small ways you can:
- Tarps for Dominica — Reports indicate that most homes on the island have lost part or all of their roofs. This is an effort to provide the most basic shelter for the moment by raising funds through Gofundme for 1,000 tarps.
- Caribbean Strong — To quote from Facebook, “Carib Brewery will donate $5 for every post shared using the hashtag #BeCaribbeanStrong! We are starting with $500,000.00 and our goal is to raise $1,000,000.000 from September 21st to October 31st. Lookout for our digital thermometer to know when we have reached the $1M pledge! Share with our hashtag today to contribute toward relief efforts!”
I’ll share more as I know more…