A local woman watched desperately from her Ladysmith home several weeks ago as the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, where she went to pursue a career in scuba diving and ended up falling in love, was ravaged by the Category 5 Hurricane Maria.
Barbara Cambran, who moved here a decade ago, is now doing everything in her power to help friends and family back home. The United Nations estimates that the rebuilding effort could take several years.
Early on Sept. 18, Cambran was still communicating with loved ones about the impending weather, but while people were on alert and prepared, “nobody really thought it would be that bad” because it looked like Maria would pass on the eastern side of the island.
Suddenly, the path of the hurricane changed as 160 mph winds battered the island, home to over 73,000 people, for seven hours.
Barbara, husband Francis and their two children Jade and Gina, both graduates of Ladysmith Secondary School, waited anxiously for the first reports to come from the island.
“It was a sick feeling when all communication just stopped. We have people in all parts of the isle and there was nobody. With growing panic we communicated with other Dominicans living abroad looking for any kind of news. Nothing. Only news of how massive the storm had gotten and how it was a direct hit,” she said.
The first news came the next day as a radio station transmitting out of Africa established a connection with Dominica ham radio operators.
“Our first information came that way and all news was bad. It was terrifying and a sick helpless feeling,” Cambran said.
Now almost a month later they still don’t have contact with many friends who are still considered missing.
“Dominica is one of the most beautiful unspoiled pristine natural places in the world and anyone who has ever been there will feel like their heart has been ripped from them looking at the absolute destruction,” she said.
Her mother-in-law is in a seniors care facility where they lost the kitchen wing but thankfully people are bringing food in to help.
“There have been deaths, a close friend lost his granny because she ran out of oxygen. Another friend lost a whole family getting washed out to see in the south,” Cambran said.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres visited the island on Oct. 8 and remarked how the whole country had been “decimated and it’s been in every community I see.”
“Most of the buildings destroyed or heavily damaged,” he said, according to a transcript of the speech. “And on the other hand, I was impressed by the effective response that your government and your people with the resilience of your communities was able to put together. A response that allows what I see today to be very different already from what we could see immediately after the hurricane.”
Cambran and her husband purchased a piece of land in Mero where they operated a business and are hoping to a submit building plan sometime in the future.
“Dominica people are amazing. Resilient strong and positive,” she said, feeling encouraged by stories of neighbourhood BBQs and people with homes in take taking in those who are homeless.
“We are fundraising because that’s all we can do right now.”
Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is importing building materials and tarps as the country rebuilds but has asked that people not visit at the moment unless they have their own food and shelter.
In Mero, Cambran said the “poor village” is in desperate need of resources.
“Depending on how much we can raise our first thoughts are in assisting with power tools,” she said. “I doubt they have a functioning drill in the whole village. We are now in touch with one of our old employees to give us a damage assessment of the village when he can and we will further discuss needs and plans.”