Roseau.–Dominica should be beautiful. The sea here meets mountains that are 1,000 meters high, and creates beaches of black sand where the cliffs are less steep. The principal settlements, including the capital, have developed along the shores of the more than 365 rivers that flow from the peaks to the coast.
The global modernizing wave of glass and aluminum has had little impact on the island. Predominating is a Creole architecture that adapted French and British colonial styles to offer protection from the sun and views of the Caribbean.
Over the past several centuries, houses painted in pastel colors have scaled the mountainsides, seeking the tropical breeze that, with luck, arrives in the evenings to alleviate the heat.
This paradisiacal landscape changed forever this past September 18, when Hurricane Maria struck the island with winds of more than 250 kilometers per hour. Dominica and its 72,000 inhabitants now face the challenge of starting over, basically from nothing.
"I have never seen such destruction in any other place in the world," said UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, after seeing entire forests without a single leaf, this past October 8.
"The intensity of hurricanes this season is no accident, but rather the result of climate change," Guterres stated, adding that scientific evidence exists linking global warming with greater frequency of such extreme weather phenomena.
Light roofing, which provides efficient insulation from heat, was no match for the winds of María. Eight of every ten persons lost their homes, including 20,000 boys and girls, according to UNICEF.
A HARD ROAD AHEAD
"Dominica has hard months ahead," Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said, on October 7, and called on citizens to come together to reconstruct the country.
Nonetheless, more than a few people have decided to leave the island, at least until the situation improves.
Leaving the Roseau ferry terminal everyday are two boats carrying up to 300 persons to neighboring islands.
"I'm going to spend some time with my family," Roose told Granma International, before boarding to travel to Saint Lucia, saying that she had lost her job in the capital providing childcare, and could not find other work, adding, "Maybe the situation will improve by January or February."
Regarding assistance following the hurricane, Roose said she thought the government was doing "the best they can," but that distribution problems exist.
Authorities insist that needed amounts of food and water are available, and mechanisms have been created for the population to denounce any irregularity. The Prime Minister called on citizens to report any instances of corruption to their Parliamentary representatives.
Likewise established were supervisory bodies to prevent speculation or profit-gouging by companies in the wake of the hurricane.
The growing exodus does not worry Dominica's residents too much. They are accustomed to thousands of people coming and going depending on the economy's strength.
Many expatriates have settled here in search of opportunities.
Styler, for example, was born in the Dominican Republic and has worked as a hairdresser in Portsmouth for ten years now.
"What I did was take my vacation in advance, since I can't cut hair without light," he explained, adding, "I'll be back and I'm sure others will be, too. They just need money to rebuild what they lost."
Johana, who lives in Saint Joseph, recalled that something similar happened with Hurricane David in 1979, and that the majority of those who left returned to Dominica.
Anet is also at the ferry terminal to pick up a help package from Saint Lucia. Sitting with her 13-year-old daughter, she avoids criticizing those who have decided to leave, but asks who is going to clean the streets and replace roofs blown away by Maria, "If everyone leaves, Dominica will never develop."
A SLOW PACED RECOVERY
Three weeks after the hurricane hit, heavy machinery has begun to arrive and the country's principal cities are recovering some vitality.
There is electricity in some parts of Roseau and Portsmouth, but the vast majority of people remain without power.
One area in which more rapid progress has been made is the opening of highways to traffic.
The government reports that it is now possible to send help to communities along these routes, but dozens of bridges remain impassable and the threat of mudslides dissuades motorists.
Services at hospitals, where dozens of Cuban doctors are collaborating, are also available. Many facilities suffered severe damage, and patients in the most serious condition were transported by helicopter to neighboring countries that were in a position to accept them.
Another sector prioritized by the government is education. Skerrit announced that by the middle of the month, 14 elementary schools will be open.
Safe, hygienic conditions and potable water are required if students are to return to classrooms, thus authorities have devised a plan to open schools in stages, with those least affected opening first, and temporary facilities provided for students at schools which suffered extensive damage.
A return to normality is, however, months off, especially at higher levels. Many secondary schools are being used as shelters and others are in no condition to be used.
This is too much time to lose for 16-year-old Daniel, who has decided to go to Saint Kitts and Nevis, to continue his studies.
Like the rest of his classmates, he will soon be expected to take difficult exams to enter the job market or go on to university.
"I'll continue there, and when I can, I'll come back here. Right now it's impossible," he told Granma.
The government is working with neighboring countries to make the transition easier for students from Dominica, and allow for mutual recognition of grades and credit.
"Things aren't moving at the pace we would like, but they're moving," Skerrit said. In his opinion, it is time to move from a period of assisting those affected by the hurricane to the recovery stage, to rebuild the country.
AN EXAMPLE FOR THE WORLD
Despite the level of destruction they face, local authorities believe that it is possible to come back stronger.
Skerrit insisted that the reconstruction of Dominica must take place on a stronger foundation, using materials that can withstand hurricane force winds and flooding. Infrastructure must be more resistant.
These plans depend to a large degree on foreign aid, especially from developed countries and international financial centers.
During his visit to Dominica, the UN secretary general called on the international community to design new mechanisms to provide financial assistance for reconstruction here and on other islands hit by Irma and Maria.
The UN, however, is having trouble raising the 114 million it needs to provide emergency help to Caribbean nations.
After experiencing the worst natural disaster in its history, the government's dream is ambitious: a Dominica that is reborn as the first nation fully prepared to face climate change and its devastating effects.
"We can be an example for the rest of the world," Skerrit said.