“We will bounce back”: Stories from Dominica after the storm
Eight months after hurricane Maria struck the small island of Dominica, home to over 73,000 people in the Eastern Caribbean belt, an other active hurricane season is about to start, one that experts are predicting an active season “near and above normal”. As we drove through the island, we saw nature is starting to reclaim the island, the forest cover is turning green again, the debris has been cleared, and shops have reopened. Children are back at school and slowly people’s lives are bouncing back. The hustle and bustle in the streets of Dominica on a Friday night is a testament to the resilience and spirit of the people of Dominica.
Yet, with the start of the new hurricane season and storms becoming more frequent and more powerful, Dominica is determined to turn these challenges into an opportunity and has set the aspirational goal of becoming the world’s first climate resilient nation.
We spoke with a village council clerk, a forest officer, a craft maker from the Indigenous community fo Kalinago, a civil engineer and many others who have shared their stories on how they see their country recovering:
“Eventually, it’s getting back green and we are getting there”
Glenda Castle, a clerk of the village council of Loubiere, recalls the night of September 18, “Hurricane Maria started by 7:30pm, and by 8 o’clock, my entire roof was gone. So, my son Ivan, my daughter Tajuana, my two grandchildren Taylor and Yasmin, we made it to my bathroom, because it has concrete roof. The wind had a sound of dogs and cats and all types of instruments, drums, and guitar, and you can hear people laughing and crying. To be very honest, I do not want to hear or see anything like that again.”
Glenda’s house was partly washed away by the river during the storm. She is currently living with her daughter and two grandchildren. When asked about how she saw the recovery efforts, she shared her sense of optimism and resilience:
“Eventually, it’s getting back green and we are getting there. I got a team together and started cleaning until the heavy equipment came and removed the rest of the debris. There is now a new building code. The hurricane ties, the clams and there are different screws that must be used. We were not using them before and right now we need to ensure that the builders are putting it in when they are rebuilding. The reason I am optimistic is because there are lots of organizations that have come in and are assisting the government with the rebuilding”.
Regreening the ‘Nature Island’ after the storm
With over 300 rivers, a lush rain forest and its many springs and water falls, the pristine Caribbean island had positioned itself as a “Nature Island” destination. Forest officer Felix Eugene guided us to Trafalgar Falls, a twin water falls nested at the heart of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its natural beauty.
“When I came here (after Hurricane Maria), I could not believe what I saw. The trail was blocked by boulders and trees….The entire country was brown like a toast. Maria blew everything apart. Most huge trees are gone”, said Felix. The forestry division has started many reforestation projects to help regain the different varieties of forest types. As local tourists were trickling as we visited the park, Felix noted that “Prior to Maria, you’d have 2,000 to 3,000 cruise ship tourists come visit the falls a day, but now, we only have a trickle in, but it is picking up gradually again. As you can see, a lot of work was put into clearing the trails.”
“Baskets now are not selling because of the slow tourism season”
In the Indigenous community of Kalinago, Beverly Joseph supports her family by weaving baskets and other traditional handicrafts to sale for the tourists. She has been living with her partner, her mother and her ten children in a shelter since the night of the hurricane.
“Baskets right now are not selling because of the slow tourism season. I get a little assistance from the welfare every month, but it is difficult.”
Scenic and winding mountainous roads
Traveling on the volcanic island of Dominica means navigating through its scenic and winding roads. Our driver mentioned that he had to change his tires every month. Since Maria, engineers have been working around the clock to repair fractures, stabilize slopes and expand critical channels that will divert floodwater in future storms. Thanks to these efforts, most of the roads are now navigable.
“We have had many challenges after Hurricane Maria, a lot of roads were impassible, and it was a challenge to get through to different communities, but through the collective effort of all Dominicans, we worked very hard to get the roads cleared,” said Ron Jackson, Assistant Project Engineer.
“I strongly believe that through the community involvement and the togetherness we all have, we will stand by each other. When there is a disaster, we all come together. This is the kind of spirit we all have. And I think that is what pulled us through after Maria”.
Geothermal and energy independence
About 50 percent of the people of Dominica still don’t have electricity after Maria. The biggest challenge is running the high tensions and grid lines through all the mountains and the rivers to the remote communities. In its quest for becoming energy independent, the island is actively pursuing geothermal development by taking advantage of the steam which surges from its active volcanoes to generate electricity. The government has announced plans to establish a 7 MW geothermal plant.
“It is scary to think that nature can change a country within a heartbeat. But looking at months later, what you see, tells you that we’re one of the most resilient countries in the world and we bounce back really fast,” said Gary Shilling-Ford, a project site manager at the geothermal site of Laudat-Wotten Waven.
“Our trees are green again and bearing fruits. Geothermal and energy independence is a first step of becoming the first climate resilient nation in the world. I see it as a way forward for my country, and I see energy security as a first step to be truly independent as a nation.”