Tropical storm Erika kills 11 (35 missing) and causes widespread damage
Four hours. That's all it took tropical storm Erika to unleash 12 inches of high-intensity rainfall on Dominica in the early morning hours August 27, 2015.
That's all the time Erika needed to transform the island's normally sedate rivers into deadly rampaging monsters. Swollen several times their normal size, they gorged on everything in their paths.
Millions of gallons of water careened down the mountains to the sea, uprooting countless rocks and trees and creating mayhem. In minutes, landslides triggered by the churning water turned vast tracts of land into sodden piles of rubble.
The flow of bad news was thick and fast and lines between truth and rumour were blurred -- roads, bridges, utility poles, water mains-- wiped out! Public buildings, a church and many homes—gone! Two brothers from Bath Estate; a family in Petite Savanne—gone! At least 11 of our brothers and sisters— all gone!
It was a tragedy of epic proportions. In the minds of many, the trauma and damage surpassed even that of Hurricane David in 1979, long considered to be the worst storm to hit Dominica in living memory.
The island was glaringly underprepared. Storm warnings for Erika issued up to a few hours before it struck had predicted a path to the Leeward Islands well north of Dominica. Lulled into a false sense of security, most residents expected a few heavy showers then business as usual. Sadly, it was not to be.
Erika dumped a total of 10 inches of rain on Dominica in less than one day, leaving in its wake unprecedented death and destruction and setting back the island's economic progress about two decades, said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
Path of destruction
Tropical storm Erika is now confirmed as the deadliest storm to hit the Dominica in 36 years. It formed on August 24 as the fifth storm of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season and it was immediately classified as a tropical storm. Meteorologists say it reached peak intensity with winds of around 50 mph on multiple occasions before and during its deadly path through Dominica.
It made landfall between around 2am on August 27, inundating the island's east coast. Relentless, heavy rainfall quickly destabilized the mountainous terrain triggering flash floods and huge landslides. The small community of Petite Savanne suffered the brunt of Erika's fury, with tons of debris flattening several homes and taking lives.
By 8am, the entire island was engulfed in trauma and tragedy. There was widespread destruction of homes and businesses, disrupted utility services, food distribution, healthcare and communications services. Residents of several communities found themselves locked off from the rest of the island without potable water, electrical power or telecommunications.
The main airport-- Douglas Charles— which had been recently renovated, was flooded and remains unusable up to press time. Its apron is damaged and all equipment on the ground floor may have been seriously damaged and might have to be replaced.
By 10 am on the day of the storm, major highways on the island were damaged; many roads blocked by landslides were impassable and several communities were isolated. Residents of Portsmouth, including the Parliamentary Representative Ian Douglas were making use of private small boats to travel to Roseau by sea.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who was overseas when the storm hit, few back to Dominica that same day to spearhead a massive relief initiative by Government, along with its regional and international partners, the public and private sectors and civil society response.
The initiative-- dubbed Response, Rehabilitation and Recovery-- focused on intense efforts to rescue trapped residents and access the worst-hit communities by air, land and sea. Among first responders were teams from Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, France and Venezuela.
In the immediate aftermath, most of the island's potable water systems were devastated and electricity was cut, either by the effects of the storm or by the utility company as a precautionary measure. However, electricity and water were restored to most communities within three days of the storm.
Nevertheless, many communities were still without potable water and a few areas were also without electricity up to press time. DOWASCO and DOMLEC continue to do their utmost to restore normal supplies as soon as possible.
There was also a breakdown in telecommunications services leaving isolated communities without information or relief. Up to press time, a number of areas were still without telecommunication.
At least 11 persons have been confirmed dead and the search is ongoing for several others who were reported missing.
Evacuation of residents from hard-hit Petite Savanne began on the afternoon of August 31. The village is completely cut off from the rest of the island and is only accessible by boat or helicopter.
Government has declared the following communities Special Disaster Areas: Bath Estate (Paradise Valley); Dubique; Petite Savanne; Campbell; Coulibistrie; Pichelin; Petite Soufriere; Good Hope and San Sauveur.
Prime Minister Skerrit said this was deemed necessary in light of the relative severity of the loss of life and damage to property and the need for focused response, rehabilitation, and recovery.
The Prime Minister has not declared a national 'state of emergency', but has been in constant contact with the international community for assistance.
The World Bank is expected to send a team to assess the damages to Dominica while Trinidad, the French and Venezuela have responded wholeheartedly.
"There is a tremendous outpouring of goodwill and assistance to Dominica from virtually every part of the world…" the Prime Minister said. Over the last few days, personnel from different countries and institutions have been dispatched to Dominica.
He debunked the notion that some countries are not prepared to assist and that Dominica has not approached some countries.
"We've been in communication with every country we have diplomatic relations with and even countries we do not have diplomatic relations with…" he said.
Baroness Patricia Scotland has been appointed as International Relief Coordinator and the Prime Minister has engaged Opposition Members of Parliament in recovery efforts. He held a special meeting over the weekend with the 21 Parliamentarians to discuss the way forward.
In an Address to the Nation on Friday, August 28, 2015 Prime Minister Skerrit stated that this disaster should be considered "a test of our ability to respond collectively, patriotically and imaginatively to the peculiar challenges of globalization and climate change that have been intensifying since the start of the 21st century".