The first three days:seen through the eyes of the 'Parl Rep'
A Special feature on the past , present and future of Petite Savanne
Day One: 'Parl Rep' for Petit Savanne Dr. Kenneth Darroux wakes up early at his home in Grand Bay with no idea that the day's events will turn his constituency upside down.
Tropical Storm Erika is widely expected to touch Dominica lightly that day. There's heavy rain, but no driving wind; no warning that an epic disaster will soon tear the quaint village of Petit Savanne apart.
In a video-discussion aired by Dominica's Government Information Service (GIS) on YouTube, Darroux recalls, "Not in our wildest imagination would we have known that the day would turn out as it did."
Early in the morning, Darroux meets a few Petite Savanne constituents in Grand Bay. They stun him with calamitous news. Deadly landslides are churning up his village. Homes and farms are destroyed; people are missing.
By then, south-eastern Dominica has no cell phone service; no communication. Darroux, a medical doctor and Minister of Health immediately takes action with fellow Cabinet Minister and Grand Bay 'Parl Rep' Justina Charles, a medical nurse.
Darroux and Charles collect available medical and relief supplies and assemble a team of police and fire officers, health personnel, and village council and disaster committee members.
Darroux briefs National Security Minister Rayburn Blackmoore-- then acting for PM Roosevelt Skerrit, who was off island—and requests urgent help to get to Petite Savanne. The only safe access is by helicopter.
"Contacts in Petite Savanne. . . informed me of a number of people injured, some seriously… We really had to get out there . . . to get those people out for medical attention," the Parl Rep recalls.
A promised helicopter is delayed. It finally arrives around 8pm. An aerial survey shows Petite Savanne ruined beyond recognition. Nothing can be done until daylight.
Day Two: Darroux flies in early by helicopter. From the air, the damage is mindboggling. A central command post is established and the team heads to the main disaster area overland.
Rescue and relief operations begin. Later that day, PM Skerrit – back in state – flies to the gutted village and gets an update from Darroux.
The possibility of mass evacuation comes up. "But it was something that had to be thought out . . . because ordering an entire community to be evacuated … it's a big decision," Darroux says.
The team crosses a major landslide on foot and reaches the main disaster area with a list of missing persons. They find one dead and give survivors emergency medical treatment; they 'medevac' the worst cases; three per flight.
More bodies are recovered; Darroux pronounces them dead. With no other practical choice, they are buried promptly with the consent and help of relatives of the deceased.
It is excruciating. The dead are family, friends and close associates.
"The fact that I'm a medical doctor by training always helps; but it doesn't take away the pain," Darroux says.
Day Three: Relief operations continue, but the expected helicopter does not show up. Hours pass, but no chopper arrives. Later, Darroux finds out that it "had some issues."
Meanwhile, helicopters are flying overhead, but none lands in Petite Savanne.
Darroux calls it "a period of high anxiety". Panicking villagers think they're being neglected.
"People were seeing, every half an hour, helicopters coming to and fro," he recalls, "Nothing was landing in Petite Savanne. We were cut off."
"Later we found out that these were private helicopters . . . contracted by the French Government to get their people out of Jungle Bay."
The situation quickly unravels.
"People had already started panicking … started to leave by droves in little boats . . . We saw families sometimes with newborn babies . . . trying to leave.
"That was really before the official evacuation," he reveals.
People ask, "What is going on? What're you guys doing?" With no communication; no cell phone service; no radio—he has no answers.
"By Saturday evening we realised that very little had happened . . . sooner or later we were going to have to leave…the question was-- how?" Darroux recalls.
Night falls. Petite Savanne, as villagers know it, is gone forever.
Yet they are infused with a sense of community, perseverance and resourcefulness. This, Darroux will never forget.
"One good thing that came out of this tragedy… it made me realise that humanity is not lost; there is still good in everybody!