House  on lower Morne Bruce damaged by Hurricane Maria
House on lower Morne Bruce damaged by Hurricane Maria

The task facing homeowners here, looking to rebuild following the merciless pounding by Hurricane Maria on September 18, is as daunting as a category five storm.

With their lives in tatters, their will tested and their homes shredded, many must also worry how to even begin to put a roof over their heads.

"A number of people are not insured, which means they have to either wait on government for assistance or dip into whatever resources they have to repair their homes," architect Severin McKenzie told The Sun in a phone interview cut short by the still patchy mobile service.

Even among the insured, it may not be as simple. While some have already begun to receive payment, they are falling way short of what is needed to construct new homes, particularly if they wish to build to withstand category five hurricanes, McKenzie said.

"You have the other part which is the insurance where some people are very disappointed with their insurance [payments] because of under insurance," he said.

The number of uninsured homes is not immediately clear, but those in the know believe thousands of Dominicans fall into this category.

Hilarian Jules, manager of the housing division, says there are those who are doing all they can to have a roof over their heads as quickly as possible.

"In terms of people wanting to do their stuff on their own, we have a lot of people who don't have insurance but want to do their own thing, and don't want to depend on government. They have pulled up used materials, as well as procure new materials and are rebuilding," Jules told The Sun.

On the other hand, there are "a lot of people", some of whom are still in shelters, simply "waiting to see what government is going to do".

Sorting out the housing problem has been complicated by the fact that an assessment of the damage is far from over.

Despite new technology obtained through the United Nations Development Programme that makes it easier to carry out assessments, the authorities are still a long way away from determining how many of the approximately 25,000 homes that were occupied before the hurricane were damaged and the extent of this damage.

Jules revealed that 25 teams totalling 100 people have been dispatched all over the country to do the assessment.

However, this is a tedious exercise and after three weeks they have covered only about a quarter of the known occupied homes.

"There will be a categorization of building by level of damage," Jules explained.

"Clearly, there are some unoccupied dwellings, so the total dwelling on the island we estimate at 31,000 as at the 2011 census. [However], we are proposing to do the assessment using our judgement based on what we know was occupied."

Government is hoping to complete this assessment by Christmas. And then the real work begins.

During the truncated interview with McKenzie, the respected architect pointed to a marked difference in approach this time round as compared to 1979 when Hurricane David flattened virtually the entire island.

"One of the things we are not seeing is the spirit of 1979, that urgency on the part of Dominicans to put a roof over their heads by using whatever material is available," McKenzie said.

But it is clear that the spirit of '79 will have to be invoked if the country is to rebound as quickly as possible.

While it is true that the authorities here are receiving building material from friendly governments, the administration's priority is to get people out of shelters.

Therefore, Jules said, a lot of this material "we are using to fix the homes of people in shelters.

"Secondly, there are people who rented . . . if they are to leave the shelters they will be homeless. So the government is using some of the building material to build transition housing for them."

At the same time, a permanent housing solution must be found. And in addition to initiatives that were under way prior to Maria's unwelcomed visit, government has entered into a deal with a Barbadian precast company, Proconco, to provide 1,000 prefabricated houses.

What remains unclear is where these homes will be placed, who would qualify for them, or how soon they will be here.