Dominica was the first country on our trip which was badly hit by hurrican Maria in September 2017. The damages were gigantic. After this happened we though that it might be better to bypass Dominica. On recommendation of other sailors, we stopped in Dominica and as so often on our trip so far, we stayed longer than expected.
The island raises steep and unprotected out of the open ocean. Nothing would withstand who monster storm crashing against that steep land there. Already when approaching Dominica from the sea some brownish-grey forests indicated that something was wrong. The leaves of the trees must have been either torn off by the wind or destroyed by the salty sea water sprayed over the place.
From our anchorage point in Portsmouth’ Prince Rupert Bay it was clearly visible that many houses got their roofs repaired already or at least covered with sturdy plastic foil, some from USaid, as we saw later. The place looked quite dark at night because electric grid was still down,
apart from the main streets.
Stepping ashore unveiled that a considerable part of disaster recovery was completed. What was worthwhile to safe for the future was put more or less in shape. Many wooden houses simply collapsed with nothing left for tomorrow. Aid organizations such as the UNICEF or World Food Programme still had their tents there. This was when I learned about the value of such field aid organizations.
One property had a huge cargo container in the garden, washed in by the flood, with the owner being left unable to remove it. One former restaurant had just its concrete basement left, with a concrete stair, the menu card painted on the wall. A huge pile of rotting wooden planks were in front. A sadly looking Shepard dog was sitting on the ruin, guarding the property of its vanished owner. On the street, almost every car came with its signs of the storm, anything from body damages to broken lights or windows.
Our river guide Anthony shared his own views: “A house is just a house. It’s not so expensive and can be replaced. Poor people build their house with light wood only. No insurance would cover it because too many wooden houses would just start to burn one night. If a concrete house had burned, then the damage is low because it just needs to be repainted and then it is as good as new. Hey man, we still have our lives!”
Masses of huge trees had fallen, same as the poles for the electric power cables or the telephone lines. The government of this 30 Miles long country with a population of 72’000 only is left with an almost endless list of capital intensive tasks.
On the radio we heard the prime minister saying that hurricanes such as Maria could be the new Normal, which might be realistic. They want to rebuild the country so that it can cope with such storms. On the prevention side, they started their program to become the first climate resilient country in the world. Clearly, this will only help if they manage to send a most remarkable signal effect into the world.
Visiting a country in distress was a pretty effective eye opener in many ways, not only for our children. Now let’s turn to the good sides. Handling of the storm damages gives a boost to some parts of the economy. On a more general side, the country is blessed the nicest people we have met throughout the Caribbean so far, and with its natural beauty.
Mentioned guide Anthony rowed us up the Indian River with its dense vegetation. He showed us where Jack Sparrow was studying a chart in the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. He explained us that the mangroves along the river shore cope with both salt and fresh water. He pointed out that in contrary to the coconuts, the bananas trees will take much longer to recover from the storm.
We took a hike up to Fort Shirley. It was built by the British in the 18th century and apparently did a great deal in defending Dominica against the French, which successfully took possession of Martinique in the South and Guadeloupe in the North.
Unfortunately and because of the earlier mentioned accident during horse back riding, we couldn’t do our trip to the famous Emerald Pools and waterfalls in the South of Dominica.
As almost everywhere in the West Indies and during this season, the locals complain about the unusually windy and wet season with lot of rain. The good side of the rain is that it supports the vegetation to grow very rapidly. And the rain does it’s job: The greens grow so quickly that the brown-grayish rain forest definitely looked greener when we departed, just one week after our arrival.