ROSEAU, Dominica.– Two weeks after Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria’s winds of over 250 kilometers per hour, the island remains in a state of shock.
“It looked like a tornado,” Debora Bowerstold Granma. Aged 70, she clearly remembers when Hurricane David struck the island four decades ago. “This was twice as bad,” she stressed.
Bowers lost the roof of her home, and now lives in a truck with her family. She explains that the force of the wind managed to lift the truck a few inches off the ground, and it was her 21 year old son who prevented it from flying away with the rest of their belongings.
Like her, thousands of people wade through the accumulated debris to move from one side to another of the country’s capital, Roseau. With most homes still without electricity and potable water, getting around is crucial to meeting their basic needs.
Some have decided to go further and leave the country altogether. Every day they leave the port in ferries to neighboring islands, where they aspire to rebuild their lives. Those who have more resources, or families abroad, have temporarily left during this most difficult stage.
Stephanie Morris walks along with her five year old son. “If I see a future for him in this country? I don’t know, our life was destroyed in a minute,” she states.
A few meters ahead, she watches him for a few seconds and seems more confident: “Someone has to rebuild Dominica. There is hope and we have to hold on to that.”
Roseau and its 14,000 inhabitants are just beginning to shake off the effects of Maria. Roofs are stacked in the middle of the street waiting to be picked up by the few trucks that are working. Dozens of cars remain covered with mud, while objects ranging from televisions to keyboards can be found scattered and unusable thanks to the flooding.
The most intense activity is observed in the center of the city, near the coast. The force of the sea carried tons of black sand inshore, leaving buildings completely buried. Enormous bulldozers clear the roads and life begins to return to this area where government activity, restaurants and businesses are concentrated.
The huge amounts of solid waste, alongside the stagnant water, are the new threats.
“There are vectors in Dominica that could trigger outbreaks of infectious diseases,” explained Michael Cabrera, head of the 22-member Cuban Medical Brigade to the island, which was reinforced with ten specialists from the Henry Reeve Contingent.
“Acute diarrheal diseases are also a risk,” he added.
Three epidemiologists also traveled from Cuba, and are working in Portmouth, Marigot and Castle Bruce, some of the most important inland communities of Dominica. They assess the risks of outbreaks, and help raise public awareness of the measures to be taken to prevent them.
Juan Miguel González, an intensive care specialist from Holguín, has been working for four months in the island’s only hospital, the Princess Margaret.
The intensive care ward was left in such poor conditions after Maria that they were forced to manually ventilate the most severe cases for 48 hours.
The power has now been restored, and the most complicated emergencies are being sent to neighboring countries, which have agreed to receive them. The health infrastructure in general suffered serious damages.
Most cases, according to Cuban specialists, have little to do with the hurricane, and mainly relate to chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
Both González and his compañero Rafael Villavicencio, also an intensivist, from Artemisa, are convinced that hospital services would have collapsed without international support.
Emergency teams from various countries, including neighboring islands, arrived in the days following the tragedy, but have already begun to leave the country.
“This always happens,” states Dr. Villavicencio, “But we Cubans stay put until the very end.”