Still Rough a Year After
Hurricane Maria's Anniversary
It was the nighttime destroyer that left the island's most powerful man completely powerless.
"Rough! Rough! Rough!" prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit wrote in a dramatic series of posts on Facebook as Hurricane Maria sent fear and dread through Dominicans.
A few minutes earlier he had written: "The winds are merciless!" and later: "My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding."
It was a year ago today, on 18 September 2017, that the terrifying storm devastated the country with its 160mph, category 5 winds, leaving a feeling among a shocked population that this island was finished.
In a single night, the hurricane turned roofs into tiny pieces of paper, smashed walls into virtual dust, lifted roads, snapped communication towers, left vegetation looking as if it had been destroyed in a massive forest fire, and turned lives into an unending nightmare.
And as people tried to live though the ruins, Skerrit cried on television as he talked about the damage, while he promised the world's first climate resilient country.
A year on from the storm, a lot has changed but things appear to be the same, according to some observers.
"The task is so daunting it is going to take a lot of time," development expert Crispin Gregoire told The Sun recently as he evaluated government's progress on the climate resilience pledge. "It could be 20 years before we begin to make progress," he predicted.
On the very basic services such as utilities, there has been quite some progress since the hurricane, particularly with water, electricity and telecommunications, says Severin McKenzie, an experienced architect who observed the rebuilding effort after another devastating storm, Hurricane David, nearly 40 years ago.
"I think the utility companies have done a tremendous job in getting water, telephone and electricity back in record time if we have to compare it to David," McKenzie told The Sun on the eve of the anniversary of Maria's passage.
The private sector, he added, have also done well in getting business back on track, notwithstanding the widespread looting that took place immediately after the hurricane.
However, he said, it is in key productive areas such as manufacturing and tourism that the country has fallen flat. "Quite a few facilities in terms of manufacturing are still none functional and the small hotels, most of them are closed . . . So in manufacturing we have not seen any recovery at all," McKenzie said, reiterating a concern he shared weeks earlier, when he told The Sun he was unhappy with the recovery of the manufacturing sector.
"The manufacturing sector is yet to fully recover, and we are yet to ensure that we do what it takes to get it back on track. We just cannot be satisfied with where we are and could have been much better," he said then.
The pace – or lack therefore – of the recovery was captured in a release last month by the UN Migration Agency (IOM), which said it had assisted 500 families "who lost their roofs and nearly everything else" to rebuild stronger, more resilient roofs.
"Almost a year after on, Dominica is still struggling to return to normality," the UN agency said. "… if the array of houses covered in tattered tarps, the piles of distorted galvanized sheets at many bends or the ghosts of abandoned homes and businesses littered around the country are any indication, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
"Emergency shelters still house families who have not been able to return to a normal life in what remains of their homes," the IOM continued. "Many houses simply disappeared. Emergency shelters across the island were damaged, and most have not yet been repaired," it stressed.
If proof is needed of the progress done in the year since Maria, consider the approach to Tropical Storm Isaac which threatened last week, one person told The Sun.
While a state of emergency and curfew were declared and government vowed the Princess Margaret Hospital was ready, days after Isaac dissipated, some areas were still without water, the person said, casting doubt on the island's readiness for another storm.
"Things are bad," he told The Sun, a clear indication that a year after Hurricane Maria, it's still "Rough! Rough! Rough!"