12th October 2017
Simon Solomon had a critical decision to make. As Hurricane Maria’s 185-mph winds and torrential rains began to splinter his wood-framed home, he wondered whether he should stay or risk making a run for safer shelter.
The 52-year-old fled his home and raced towards his neighbor’s house. With debris whooshing about from every direction, Simon often dove to the ground and covered his head for protection. But he kept going.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally made it to his friend’s house, exhausted. Together, they huddled in the dark until the ferocious storm finished passing over Dominica on its destructive path through the Caribbean.
Like many Dominicans, Simon remembers Hurricane David, the last Category 5 storm to hit the island nation of about 75,000 people. That was on 29th August 1979. Now, 18th September 2017, will forever be etched in his mind.
“David was horrible, but Maria was a monster,” he said. “It was terrifying winds and endless water.”
The next morning Simon walked back to his home perched on a steep hill in the hard-hit village of St. Joseph on the southwestern coast. The roof was mostly gone, but the main structure was still standing. How can I cover my roof and protect my belongings from getting damaged further, he thought?
Relief came last Friday when Samaritan’s Purse provided Simon with a heavy-duty shelter tarpaulin.
“This will help seal my roof so I can fix it up nicely,” he said. “God is a good God, and He sent Christians like you to help us. I’m very glad about that.”
The southernmost of the Leeward Islands, Dominica is mountainous with lush tropical rainforests and sprawling plantations where sugarcane, bananas, vegetables and citrus fruits are grown. Maria stripped away vegetation and reduced trees to leafless toothpicks. An estimated 75 percent of the homes are considered uninhabitable.
Dominica’s plight prompted swift action from Samaritan’s Purse. We rushed to come alongside distressed residents and offer assistance in Jesus’ Name.
Our response has been multifaceted. Heavy-duty shelter tarpaulin is one important aspect. To date, we have distributed tarp to almost 4,500 households, mostly on the west coast. We’ve concentrated there because some bridges and roads to other parts of the island were blocked or swept away. As those are cleared, we’re reaching out to other parts of the country, especially the east coast, which took a massive hit.
In the months ahead, we’re looking to initiate a significant building project, utilizing local help. We’re planning to construct 1,000 semi-permanent houses—up to 20 square meters each with tin roofs, timber frames, and tarped side walls. These will be located on existing, structurally sound foundations. Individual households will be responsible for solid siding and insulation. Our goal will be to help transition people from temporary shelters into their own homes.
Another immediate priority is providing clean, safe drinking water. People started collecting water from the rivers, but that’s where they also bathe and wash their clothes. So, they had to boil what they gathered.
As a better alternative, we’ve set up four water treatment systems in strategic locations. These take fresh water from the rivers, filter it, chlorinate it and convert it into clean water safe to drink. We’re daily providing water for 11,000 people, about 20 percent of the island’s population. As we get access to areas currently under served, we will address water, sanitation and hygiene issues there as well.
Wendell Lawrence was in his house in the village of Mahaut when Maria unleashed her fury. He had put up barriers on his windows to try to block its force, but they were still shattered. “It was terrible,” he said. “But I give God thanks and praise that my life was spared.”
A corrections officer, Wendell lined up at the tap stand after work last week to fill jugs and other containers with water from our system. Wearing a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Faith in Action,” he thanked Samaritan’s Purse for providing safe drinking water to Dominicans like himself. “I’m grateful you are helping to take care of the less fortunate and serving our community.”
In addition to providing clean water and passing out tarps, Samaritan’s Purse has dispatched a team of six nurses to Princess Margaret Hospital, a 230-bed facility in Roseau that was severely damaged by the hurricane. Some wards were completely destroyed, forcing hospital staff to crowd patients into smaller spaces.
Our nurses arrived at the start of October to help local nursing staff handle the patient load and relieve the stress they’ve experienced during this crisis.
The medical team was augmented more recently by an orthopedic surgeon, a general surgeon, a nurse anesthetist, and a recovery room nurse. Hurricane Maria caused a number of broken bones and other orthopedic injuries, and our surgical team is coming alongside local surgeons to reduce the backlog.
The hospital has also been facing a pressing need for more operating room equipment and instruments. So, Samaritan’s Purse, through our medical arm World Medical Mission, airlifted the supplies for a surgical theater.
This includes an operating table, surgery trays and instruments, vital signs monitors, small and large sterilisers, suction pumps, oxygen concentrators, and an electro-surgical unit. While our team is in Dominica, they will operate out of this theater. The materials will be turned over to the hospital upon our team’s departure.
As our nurses make their daily rounds, they invest themselves into their patients, many of whom are elderly and hurting. They speak gently and compassionately, holding their hands and stroking their foreheads. Often times, they pray with and pray over their patients—and their families. They’ve been asked on numerous occasions “Why have you come?” and they respond because the love of Christ compels them.
One patient, Theona Frederick, is a retired nurse educator. She paid a compliment to Pippa Coe, our nurse, who treated an infected wound on her right foot. Theona said of Pippa, “She’s very good. She’s becoming a Dominican.”
In a nearby ward, nurse Katie Morales is attending to Stowell Benjamin Charles, who had his right big toe amputated. When asked about the care he’s receiving from Katie and other Samaritan’s Purse nurses, Stowell said, “They’re doing a wonderful job. Thank God for their help. We will miss them whenever they leave.”