Hurricane Maria, Dominica: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Survival Story

Hurricane Maria, Dominica: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Survival Story

Alex Ocana, a Bolivian, is the lighthouse keeper at Cana Point on the north coast of Dominica. Alex decided to sit out the hurricane in his own wooden cottage which he had built in the vicinity of the lighthouse. It is an account that is extremely useful for architects and those in the construction industry as well as others. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @DominicaCanaPt and you can also follow his Facebook posts at: https://www.facebook.com/SrAlexOcana

START

So, to begin with I am sitting on my porch a few hundred feet from the ocean (overlooking the Atlantic side). My garden has turned into a faery garden with hundreds, maybe thousands of butterflies eating the pollen of the flowers which popped up after the hurricane. This is special to the place I live, i.e. the Great Southern White migrates, and the first place they find in Dominica is my flower garden and they decide to hang out. In my quite long life, I can say that after over a month of being surrounded by hundreds/thousands of butterflies I am still amazed.

Let me tell you about the hurricane. I built a wooden house on a cape exposed from all sides except the south which is covered in coastal woodland. “They” say that wooden houses won’t stand hurricanes. I watched the thing come in: in the late afternoon branches were busting off the trees, the waves crashing on the cliffs were shaking the land. My Internet and light went out about 4:30 PM and about that time I battened down all the storm shutters and after a quick bit of video about 6 PM, closed my storm door and hid out in the dark inside the house. Well, I do have a tactical flashlight, but the battery life is maybe four to five hours.

The hurricane hit Dominica as a Category Five in which it is expected that most houses will loose their roofs or be demolished. Winds of 175 MPH with gusts well over 200 MPH mixed with inches of rain per hour, lightning strikes and crashing waves on the cliffs. A wind that strong will send water from the rain into any and all micro-cracks in any construction. The air pressure, especially on cement block houses with wooden gable roofs, will blow the roof off, galvanized roofing bends like wax, steel beams turn into spaghetti like tangles. trees blow down from the roots or twist and break a few feet above ground. broken branches, pieces of demolished houses, galvanized roofing, rocks, everything blows into houses, windows, doors, everything…imagine moving 200 MPH in your race car and smashing into a cement wall.
So, I am in my wooden house in the middle of the night with 200 MPH gusts making the whole thing vibrate as if there was a jet engine inside the house: an endless roar, the whole house vibrating, branches being blown across the roof sounding like a metal foundry whining for mercy.

I tried to open the door to get to the lighthouse (a safer haven than the wooden construction) and couldn’t open it more than nine inches without feeling like the wind was going to slam it in my face and smash my nose into my brain. Meanwhile I am hearing what sounds like the roof is being blown off, a sort of screaming metallic sound.

From inside, the wall facing the hurricane winds looked like a waterfall, water being blown into any micro crack, the floor flooded. I moved my bed to the kitchen on the west side. It was damp and hot. I laid there turning my flashlight on and off watching the walls and roof “breathe”. Hard to describe, but I could see the walls and roof expand and contract with the 200 plus MP gusts while listening to (in my case, I am in the bush with no other houses around)the branches crash into the roof and porch. Your amplifiers at full power wouldn’t even scratch the decibels. A wall of amplifiers wouldn’t have been heard ten feet away.

About midnight the eye wall hit Capuchin. All of a sudden after five hours of insane blasts everything went still. But, only for a few minutes as one of the tower vortices on the eye wall shifted to wind to from the south. From still to a hurricane eye wall tornado which BLASTED Capuchin village into rubble and, from my damp bed in the kitchen, made my south wall and roof bow outwards line a wooden balloon.

Here is how it went: dead still, contiguous blasts of lightning, a 200 MPH plus wall of wind and air pressure painfully popping my ears, the wall and roof acting like a balloon made of wood, bowing our, slamming in. My flashlight, now dim, illuminating the waterfall, now coming from the south, the sound of tearing steel, breaking trees. . .
I caught the rhythm of the absolute stillness with the blasts of wind and about midnight, ran out the door along the porch and was surprised, awed, that nothing was damaged. the porch was full of debris, tree twigs, but the house intact.


Around the house, fallen tree trunks, the driveway blocked by trees blown down from the roots. In the midst of total devastation my house and lighthouse stood untouched, essentially pristine.

By ten o’clock the temperate spared to over 90 F. with not a breath of wind and nearly a 100% humidity. The house, which design was for passive air conditioning: catch the breeze from the sea which blows through the shade of the trees and passes through the house. Part of the cooling plan was also having ice cold water on hand, a small electric fan for keeping cool at night when the trade winds die down, and hot showers followed by air drying in the breeze. Overnight this changed to a pristine house in direct sunlight and post-hurricane 90 degree weather with no wind, nearly 100% humidity, and the now visible shoreline reflecting sunlight brilliantly and unfiltered. No ice water, no fan and cold showers. I hate cold showers.

I took a walk to the village. Nearly every house with smashed windows, blown off roofs, or completely demolished into heaps of rubble. Electric lines laid across the road twisted into masses of spaghetti. Power poles broken or pushed over to lay across the road. Twisted galvanized roofing blown into the woods and ravines. Most of the houses without roofs, or completely flattened. Soaked furniture and clothing, sopping, torn up dolls and toys and children’s books blown into vacant areas. Ravines choked with fallen trees, twisted roof metal and boulders.

There was no water, electricity, internet, radio, the road to Portsmouth blocked. Unfortunately, my own fault (kind of anyway). I didn’t have sufficient gasoline for my generator or vehicle. The generator, which had been on the porch, stopped working all together from water in the oil. The stuff in my fridge and freezer was turning into poisonous mush. The banks, I heard truthfully, had their roofs blown off and were closed. The stores were flooded, roofs gone, and subsequently looted so even if one had money there wasn’t any food, gasoline or anything else to buy.

The radio stations were also damaged or destroyed and the only thing I could find were the French stations across the channel from Guadeloupe. I don’t understand French. From what I could see they were lit up of as usual (It being pitch black here in Dominica)and busy listening to reggae and hip hop on the radio.

I was prepared with two weeks of food in tins, ten packs of cigarettes, a bottle of rum and two cases of bottled water. My 200 gallon water tank still stood with water for the toilet. Although damp, nothing in the house was damaged. It took a few hours to clean the floors, toss the debris off the porches. The damp mattresses and blankets dried out quickly in the “merciless” sun.
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My neighbors weren’t so “lucky”. I put “lucky” in quotes because a great many constructions in Dominica are, in spite of how fancy the look from the outside, were built shabbily, below code and not designed for a major hurricane (or for that matter earthquakes or tsunamis). To save money, for example, they build gable roofs with 2″x4″ pine rafters about 3′ apart and nail the galvanized roofing to purloins that are not much stronger than matchsticks. The connections between the roof and the cement block walls are weak. The 2″x 4″ studs are two far apart and held in with a simple nail.

Not many people build wooden houses anymore and what they do build are what amounts to pretty to look at plywood sheathed shacks. The older wooden houses that were built long ago and survived many hurricanes were, by this time, suffering from age, dry rot, termite and other insect damage. The eye-wall winds completely demolished nearly all of them.

Another factor in the destruction of 80% of Dominica’s housing is that houses are grouped in villages. The weaker houses get torn apart and the rubble slams into the next house, often punching in the windows and/or doors. The change in pressure then blows the roof off of that house sending even more galvanized roofing, broken lumber, furniture etc. into other houses and like dominoes one after the other becomes a heap of rubble, or, at best, four walls without a roof.

Even worse, and the cause of many fatalities, is that villages are built along the shore at the mouth of rivers. These ravines were all covered in big shade trees with nice paved streets, electric poles, stores and so on. But, these ravines are death traps. Tropical storms and hurricanes dump tens of inches of rain in a few hours which first cause landslides in the high mountains, then rush with torn out trees, boulders the size of SUV’s and mud down into the ravines where the flood backs up behind bridges, eventually tears them out and send a wall of debris choked water into the riverside villages on the coast. This could be compared to a tsunami coming from inland and if this is combined with a hurricane generated sea surge, the results are deadly.

The surviving houses and businesses that were hit by the 200+ MPH eye-wall gusts and tornadoes either had a four-sided hip roof (mine is a complex design of four sided roofes) or flat cement roofs (which are dangerous in earthquakes).

It was a strange, unrelated government program that saved thousands of lives. A couple years back the government declared that every shack, house or place of business needed an indoor, cement block walled toilet facility and paid for them. My friend “T” and her three kids were in their house when the wind flattened it at about 1 AM. At this time shrapnel was blowing about in a soup of dense horizontal rain and almost continuous lightning blasts. All that was left to do was grab a soaked mattress, drag the kids to the safety of the cement block bathroom, cover themselves up and wait it out. That’s pretty much how many survived.

The people woke up with their houses, furniture, mattresses, clothing, toys, books, photographs, school materials, everything sodden and battered (often blown away as far as a mile)and looked out over yards full of twisted galvanized roofing, broken trees, piles of busted lumber with nails sticking out at odd angles and gardens & farms stripped to bare earth. On the hills above what used to be lush forest turned into brown, leafless stubble interspersed with landslides.”

 

END

 

World Record in CWT Bi-Fins Apnea set in Dominica

World Record in CWT Apnea in Dominica set by freediver Sofía Gómez Uribe

Colombian Freediver Sofía Gómez Uribe competed in the 23rd annual Dominica Dive Fest, hosted by the World Underwater Federation (CMAS). The Dominica Dive Fest is the longest running scuba dive and watersport festival in the Caribbean and she has set a new CMAS Freediving World Record of 83.1 metres in CWT Bi-Fins Apnea (Constant Weight). The Dominica Dive Fest was held between July 2-16, 2017, just 2 months before Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica.

Sofia Gomez Uribe during her record breaking dive in BiFins
Advertisement for the Sofia’s world record attempt in Bi-Fins at the CMAS event in Dominica

CMAS, in conjunction with Dominica Dive Fest presented a coveted world-record breaking opportunity for Sofía Gómez Uribe . She broke the world record on July 5 by diving 83.1 metres in 2 minutes and 43 seconds in bi-fins, beating the world record of 82 meters held by Alenka Artnik from Slovenia which Artnik had achieved at the CMAS World Championship in Kaş Turkey in 2016.

Sofia Gomez Uribe during her record breaking dive in BiFins
Sofia Gomez Uribe during her record breaking dive in BiFins

Sofía Gómez Uribe continues to represent Colombia in several national and international diving competitions. She had ranked #1 worldwide in three separate disciplines of freediving prior to making her world record in Dominica. Prior to Hurricane Maria’s landfall on September 18th, 2017, Dominica was one of the Caribbean’s most premiere diving locales, by virtue of its deep diving and translucent waters and its immaculate reefs.

Sofia Gomez Uribe has set the world record in CWT Apnea
Sofia Gomez Uribe – WR CWT Bi-Fins – 83 meters

Dominica’s reputation as a diving location among the world diving community was pummeled to center stage with Sofia’s world record, however  further tourism arising out of this has suffered a major setback due to the devastation to the island caused by Hurricane Maria of 2017. We hope that in due time, our island will continue to be instrumental in the future achievements of international freedivers.

Where the Coconuts Grow – A Story of Survival through Hurricane Irma

A Story of Survival Through Hurricane Irma

This story of survival through Hurricane Irma by boaters Jody and her family from ‘Where the Coconuts Grow’, is really a short survival story of a married couple, their baby and dog, who were forced to separate shortly before Hurricane Irma bore down on the British Virgin Islands. It is told by the wife who had to hurriedly leave the island with their baby as the island was threatened by Hurricane Irma and what she went through worrying about her husband and their dog. The husband remained on the island to secure their boat and its contents, the sum of all the belongings which the couple owned.

The unforgettable facts garnered from this story are as follows:

  1. Hurricane Irma was not only a Category 5 hurricane but Irma sustained 185 mph (295 km/h) winds for 37 hours. As such, Irma became the only tropical cyclone worldwide to have had winds that speed for that long, breaking the previous record of 24 hours set by Typhoon Haiyan of 2013. Source: Wikipedia.
  2. Hurricane Irma’s winds were 10 mph faster than Hurricane Maria’s winds, however, Hurricane Maria broke the world record for the lowest pressure in recorded history thus far, with 908mb.
  3. Points 1 and 2 make it very clear that the 2017 hurricane season has not only been catastrophic but it produced hurricanes that have each broken world records.
  4. Hurricane Irma blew windows out which were behind storm shutters. Given that Breezes Cottage’s windows survived behind hurricane shutters and noting the sheer penetration of water through the seals, we can only recommend that future home owners and builders do the following: a. Install double-glazed hurricane windows and b. despite double glazed windows always being accepted as ‘safe enough’, still install hurricane shutters in front of these for double protection. c. Go with the largest (according to size of shutters), sturdiest and most dependable hardware as possible.

Help Fund the Islands in the Survival Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Also take time to support one of the several funding initiatives for so many islands across the entire Caribbean, posted on Jody’s page at ‘Where The Coconuts Grow’. Many relief funds have been created in support of the islands affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Here are just a few of the links dedicated to supporting the devastated communities as a whole:. CLICK HERE TO READ THEIR STORY.

 

Before the Storm – Hurricane Maria and our survival

Before The Storm

At 9:15PM local time (21:15 AST, 1:15 UTC Sept. 19th), on the night of Monday 18th September 2017, Hurricane Maria arrived on Dominica as an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane. Some, including me, have described Maria as a Cat 5+. That means, that if there were a Category 6, she would definitely have fallen into that category. When it came to wind speeds, she was not the first such hurricane, there had been faster than her but there was one significant difference. Maria broke the world record for the lowest central pressure with 908 mbar, in recorded history thus far.

I was already aware that as a Cat 4, Maria was highly likely to set down tornadoes. In my opinion, these were the truly destructive elements. One must remember that every Cat 5 hurricane is basically already a tornado class in itself. They automatically spawn multiple tornadoes. Hurricane Maria survivors related accounts of several tornadoes touching down simultaneously as they lost their roofs during the night of the onslaught. 18 tornadoes touched down simultaneously in one survivor account. Another survivor related having seen his refrigerator spin suspended in the air in his living room, the only time he questioned whether he would get through the night alive.

The Hours Before The Storm

I watched in utter disbelief as the hurricane bore down on the island. What was incredible was that Maria spawned on September 17th and one day later became a Category 5, causing confusion in information dissemination. By the time she was reported as having risen to a higher class, she was already turning into an even higher category.

Speaking to my mother every couple hours on the previous day, she was becoming annoyed that the authorities said that is was 1 or 2 categories below what I would report to her. All I could offer up was that they were in fact right at the time they issued their warning but that Maria was developing extraordinarily fast and that the authorities could not keep up with hourly alerts. They were likely preparing in other, bigger ways for what was to come. In the final 2 hours prior to landing, Maria then gave a final twist to the knife by transforming into the extremely formidable and dangerous Category 5 hurricane with a central pressure that broke all world records. Such extraordinary intensification shook the resolve of onlookers.

At around 6:25PM on the fateful evening, I held the last conversation with my mother. It was the last telephone call before the hurricane hit the island later that night and one of two I held with her during the day. Other family members had already had previous conversations with her and so this was the last connection before the usual black out of telephone connection. We were all taking care not to disrupt her preparations. Even as she had made preparations for two whole days for a possible landing by Hurricane Irma just only 2 weeks prior, it seemed that this time, she decided to carry out last-minute actions such as moving certain items from her house to the guest cottage and making second checks whether the water tanks were shut off and other actions we did not know about. It’s a matter of course that every year, we go through important and crucial steps when severe storms or hurricanes threaten the island. Usually,  they end up having good or satisfactory outcomes. Having been on Guadeloupe when Hurricane David hit Dominica in 1979 as a Category 4 hurricane, we had been ‘near-island’ survivors of Hurricane David and knew that it would be just a matter of time before the island would be similarly impaired or devastated.

Electricity had already been cut by the authorities at around 3:00PM, 6 hours before landfall and my mum informed me that this indicated very bad news, in her opinion, the authorities knew more than the people on the ground knew. In the aftermath, it became obvious that PM Skerrit was feverishly communicating with the Prime Minister of St. Lucia trying to put things in place for an ultimately massive disaster response as they knew would no doubt be the case after Maria’s passage.

The Beginning of Maria’s Assault

At about the hour of 6:25PM to 6:30PM, the Kalinago indigenous Territory was already under an immense assault of extreme weather and my mother spoke loudly over the tumult evidently going on outside her cottage. I couldn’t hear much of it, but it was evident that they had to speak very loudly to hear themselves. Perhaps the hurricane shutters that I had insisted that I push to afford, were fortunately blocking out sound for me over the distance of the call.

The cottage was shut tight with all doors and windows fully barred, it would have been pitch black inside, save for any lamps they had lit. Had I been aware at that moment that Maria was to turn into a Cat 5 within these last few hours and having been aware of her low her central pressure had measured, previously unheard of, I might have become too rooted in fear to talk any sense.

She related that lightning was tearing up the skies and it was therefore unsafe to keep the conversation long. I wished her the best of luck, told her to hold tight and that we loved her very much. We also quickly went through the steps of the necessary actions to be taken should she lose her own roof and that staying within the innermost room in the cottage, far away from outer walls was absolutely necessary. All this I did in as calm a voice as possible so as not cause more anxiety.

At the time of this last call, approximately 2.5 hours before Maria hit, Maria was still a Category 4 hurricane. I had already found it difficult to break this news to my mother as only hours before, the news that it had changed to a Category 3 seemed to portend a quickly worsening situation. I had advised her earlier on in the day that it may upgrade from a Cat 2 to a Cat 3, at the same time feeling quite confused. I began to wonder if I was being overly dramatic and fearing the worst. I thought I heard a faint flutter in her voice which I assumed to be some fear and had to gather up as much strength as possible to sound as confident as possible. Inside, I was beginning to sense the worst. I had sensed it since Day 1 of Maria’s life, but now the fear was growing like never before.

If I knew my mother well, that slight disturbance in her voice was most likely less fear than it was adrenaline and her usual tight-lipped resolve when  powering up of all her energy to meet the worst. As I turned around and looked at the hurricane data at around 9:00PM, my knees literally went weak to see that a Cat 5 was bearing down on Dominica. I wondered if I had given her the best advice but didn’t waste much time worrying about it, it made no sense. I just did not sleep much. I realised with dread that most Dominicans would not know that a Cat 5 was to bear down on them in the last hour before landfall.

We can only guess how it must have been for the survivors as to date. Exactly 21 days after the hurricane, we still are not able to hold any good or long conversation with our mother. After the first call to tell us that she was alright, there was only one second call, a terrible connection where we could hardly understand each other. She managed to give us a list of supplies she needed, then the call broke off and that was that.

She also sheltered others and so during our last call before Maria made landfall, she must have then felt that she needed to ensure the combined lives of those she sheltered.

Breezes Cottage as a Safe Shelter

Our mother sheltered several other individuals who chose to keep her company and who also wanted the company and assurance that they sheltered in one of the best possible structures. Among them were an 80 year mother of a friend, a female friend and her two children. Another family member promised to make it to the cottage ‘if it got bad’. The husband of the 80 year old grandmother separated from his wife to go to keep his own son or daughter company, having found out that he/she was alone in a location unknown to us. His decision was hopefully made in good time, if I remember correctly, about 3:00PM that afternoon.

A day prior, I had advised my mother that I was unsure whether the roof of the school shelter would hold but left the decision up to her to shelter where she felt it was best. Furthermore, I had gotten worrying news from a source in Dominica that one of the shelters in the north was lacking supplies, as I assumed the case may have been across the island. Dominica had had relatively little warning as Maria developed and upgraded in record time. When the Prime Minister did his press conference the day before the storm, he sounded confused and uncertain and it was the first time that I had seen him this way. All not good signs at all.

The Lighthouse Keeper Decides to Ride Out the Storm Alone

The lighthouse keeper in the north of the island near Capuchin made up his own mind to ride out the hurricane in his own quarters, high up in the mountains on the north west side of the island. He valued his view and was busy sending out images of the worsening conditions on the coastline in the north. His last tweet and Facebook post were at 3:54PM. He had been following and posting out information on the storms since Irma had passed close enough to Dominica to cause extremely rough seas and bad weather. He walked the cliffs and reported on the movements of ants, disturbed at the small earth rumblings that Hurricane Irma was bringing before her arrival.

Lighthouse Keeper Tweet
Lighthouse Keeper Tweets

The lighthouse keeper was clearly brave and fearless. Always reporting regularly and down to the last minute, his sudden silence after 3:54PM on Monday 18th September as Maria approached did not look good at all. It took up to 16 days for his friends and family to be assured that he made it through. International evacuation attempts to get at him were successful but to the surprise of his friends and family, he declined rescue from his perch.

Concerns about the structural stability of Shelter Roofs

I had additional concerns. Should the roof of the school not hold, the pandemonium that would ensue would certainly not be good for older people, perhaps even detrimental. They would likely be trampled and pushed around in efforts to find more protection. In those moments, I had actually forgotten that the school was 2-storey and so those who sheltered would have been on the lower floor, not directly subjected to driving rains and hurricane force winds. My mother made her decision based on my thoughts and information.

It often happens that some shelters lose their roofs in extreme weather such as this, churches somehow being the worst of the lot. I think that most places have given up on churches as a means of protection. I’m not saying this to disrespect churches as I for one, love the atmosphere and peace that they offer to souls and am addicted to stepping into the most beautiful of cathedrals any time I can grab the chance. Their older architecture was extremely well thought out to offer a sense of peace, wonder and grace, all necessary to battling the wars we encounter during our lives. Not so with hurricanes. If I remember correctly, Hurricane David of 1979, broke down the church in Goodwill near Roseau where many sheltered and as  result, many persons had lost their lives. For some strange reason, I cannot find this information on the web but the evidence of a new and modern church, designed by Trinidadian architect Geoffrey Maclean, stands as testament to the restored Dominica after Hurricane David.

All Communications Cut After the Hurricane, Chaos Ensues

Immediately post Maria’s passage over Dominica, communications with the entire island of Dominica was completely cut off. In the following days, much chaos ensued with the diaspora of the families of those on the ground. Teams of families and friends began to assimilate to enter Dominica from several neighboring islands and territories, some further afield. Some persons never arrived, having gotten stuck in neighboring islands and not having the connections to get any further than the nearest airports. International aid is called and responds after a somewhat slow start. Groups took boats out of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and other nearby islands, and entered Dominica. Among these, medical teams entered Dominica in attempts to bring immediate relief to many coastal communities across the island. One heard that these medical teams actually went ‘in hiding’ from government officials which apparently was extremely displeased at the disorganized fashion of unknown persons entering the island through any fishing port or bay possible and without proper control. One could understand the government’s position given the serious problems that the Caribbean has when it comes to drugs and human trafficking.

The tug boat The Flying Buzzard decides to also go on the mission, collecting individuals and families with their cargo of aid and supplies in St. Lucia and it tugs the length of Dominica’s western coast, going first to Roseau and hurrying on to Portsmouth where it finds that the aid is better distributed.

Lone wolves from islands such as Trinidad pack up as soon as possible and within 4 to 5 days are on the ground looking for their family members. For countless persons, they could not reach soon enough. The situation in Dominica is discovered to be dire, Roseau looks like a town that has just been flattened by war, indeed, almost as though a nuclear bomb had been dropped, and the Prime Minister initially sets about to visiting all communities. He eventually changes his mind after he has gathered enough information and drops the visits to appear urgently in the United States at the UN General Assembly to beg for assistance and help. The Prime Minister of St. Lucia joins him on this journey. Both Prime Ministers state clearly that they are on the forefront of a war on climate change and that Dominica and all Caribbean islands are at severe risk if the nations who are aggravating climate change do not consider it their combined duty to help Dominica recover and to become the first island that will be ‘climate change ready’. The rest continues to make history. Those in the know are fully aware that it is not that severe storms never existed but it is the first year that so many sever hurricanes have formed and have gone on to damage some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean region, plummeting their economies into disarray and an uncertain future for their people.

We at Breezes Cottage support our governments fully in their plea to prepare our islands fully for a changing world. Our Prime Ministers have spoken with emotion and with their throats tight. We have entered into a new era and we hope that our site visitors and all concerned, will recognize the urgency not just for the Caribbean but for its effects across the world.

Breezes Cottage Survives Maria & The Aftermath

Some 5 days after the passage of Maria, being in a tortured seizure as I was the only one who could make the time to go into Dominica yet kept back by the concerns of family, I managed to find aerial photos on Facebook, done by WaveMaker Photography, of our mum’s cottage. It not only seemed to have survived the hurricane but to our astonishment, had kept its solar box on its roof and appeared pretty untouched, along with the Salybia Primary School and Salybia’s relatively new Community Center, in comparison to the vast majority of destroyed structures around.

Salybia after Hurricane Maria
St. Cyr after Hurricane Maria. Image Source: Wavemaker Photography

On the 7th day, after much worry and tension, our mother called to report that she was fine and that we should not worry. She had made it down to the capital city with a bus of others from the indigenous territory just to make this important call and to see if she could access some bank funds. No banking was possible as they were severely damaged and closed. What met our mother’s people was clearly shocking. We were just about planning to go in to find her and this plan was dropped for the time being as she begged us not to enter what she described as a war zone. Repeated exclamations of ‘Roseau is no more, no more! It is unrecognizable, you cannot even recognize where the streets are, it is a war zone! The place looks like a ghost town!’ were shouted over the phone at us. Evidently, over half the town had already formed an exodus into other islands as the town was simply unlivable. I had seen pictures of the Chinese leaving by the dozens. We were just elated and excited to hear her voice. The magnitude of the situation would sink in deeper and deeper with each passing day.

On the other hand, our mother’s residence, originally built between 1980-1986 with meager funds from her savings, has lost its roof. Reports from an indigenous woman who assisted medical groups to reach the KalinagoTerritory, indicated that our mother was ‘fine’ for the time being but had lost part of the roof to her residence.  To what extent was not described but from the aerial photographs, it looks to be at least 50% of the roof cover. There was no time to ask our mother any questions or get any confirmation as her group was trying very hard to hurry their way out of the mess that was Roseau. Looting had already begun and we suppose that they were also concerned about this. As swiftly as she called, she disappeared into the clouds of uncertainty that is now Dominica, back into the north east of the island before so easily accessible but which now seemed like a journey into No Man’s Land. It is good to talk and write about these things because they help us accept the situation as it is and it lessens the pain and the worry.

The Semi-Finale, Conclusion

As the cottage is currently being used as a continued shelter, it is no longer available for tourist rentals. We really don’t mind and care once she has a roof over her head when the residence is watered down, likely a sad reminder of her days when she returned to her country. We will help her make it through again. We will help her rebuild with time but this would take backstage to helping her and the people around her. We are far more worried about her personal health as she is 75 and for the coming years, not just for survival for all, but for the survival for our region. She will not be alone for much longer again even as she is stubborn and wants to stay. Either way it turns out, she will not be alone.

As an aside, we always knew that this was coming. Whether it is part of our heritage as indigenous and First Peoples from whom we are directly descended or not, we have seen the signs that many fail to see and acknowledge. This is the saddest part of what Hurricane Maria has shown to the people of Dominica and the world. If the world is truly looking on to what has gone on in Texas, Mississippi, Miami, India and several other places across the world during this eventful year of 2017.

A day before Hurricane Maria’s arrival in Dominica, while I was raking in the garden, I observed scores and scores of Corbeaux flying from north to south over my residence. Large groups split into dozens, maybe more, perhaps 7 to 8 groups in total, those I saw – they must have numbered over the 200. Maybe it is that I was never observant before but I got a chill when I watched these majestic birds soar way above their usual gliding height. Circling in unease at times, they moved further south, more and more groups flew past until I had to stop my work and observe them as they flew on. They seemed disturbed but what caught my attention even more, was the fact that frigate birds seemed to fly ahead of each  group. Some may call it foolish but their movements told a story that something was not right. It was not usually like this.

As the ants move out of their dungeons, you know that the earth is trembling. As the birds move as if there’s an unusual exodus, you know that something is disturbing in the skies, something is coming. As humans, we see them and know. These were the only warning signs that early natives had which told them that something big was about to happen. Nature speaks to every living thing in these ways.

We still hope for a better world one day, a world where we all care about nature and our own environments and of course, each other and our own survival. As we place less importance on material things and more on helping each other it  has been proven many times in history, that possessions can not only disappear overnight but that the only things that are lasting in our lives are our relationships with our families and the unconditional love that we can show to each other every single day, even the people you meet in every day life, not just your family. Hug your family members today or appreciate someone because you never know if it is the last time you may ever see them again.

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The Story of Breezes Cottage’s Survival through Hurricane Maria on the night of the 18th September, 2018.   HMKT-BC-EL012018-R2-1.pdf (46 downloads)

 

Hurricane Maria – Dominica Reports from Ham Operators

Hurricane Maria – Dominica Reports from Ham Radio Operators

Ham radio operators have given the following information gathered from various ham radio operators on Dominica.

Hurricane Maria Ham Operators:

Note: If author states that there is no further information from any specific operator, this doesn’t mean that the operator is not alive. It only means that the author has not managed to gather further information on their status.

  1. Elliott Taylor, England, United Kingdom (spoke with several ham operators in Dominica).
  2. TDN Q95FM Radio
  3. Kerry Fevrier, J69YH, in Roseau, Dominica
  4. J73CI, location Unclear – operator lost his roof, author has gathered no further information gathered on him, doesn’t indicate that he hasn’t continued to communicate.
  5. J73WA, Northern End of Dominica, exact location Unclear – J73WA lost his tower and was uncertain how he was going to weather the back end of the storm, no further information on his status
  6. J73MH, exact location Unclear – J73MH lost his roof and was “just hunkering down and hoping for the best’, no further information.

SOURCE: Elliott Taylor (Ham Operator, England) – https://www.facebook.com/west.pals

  • DBS RADIO:- DBS went off air at around 3:10am UK time when the roof came off the studio building. Before DBS went off air last night what I heard from phoned-in reports was that the eye hit.-
  • HIGH CANEFIELD:- A caller stated all roofs gone in High Canefield. This was a few hours before the hurricane impacted fully. – Dominica between Petit Soufriere and Marigot with the centre hitting La Plaine and Rosalie.-
  • BELLEVUE:- badly hit with reports of a building collapse.
  • MAHAUT:- 95% of roofs gone-
  • COPTHALL:- 95% of roofs gone-
  • DELICES:- Severe flooding in Delices-
  • ROSEAU:- Severe flooding in Roseau. The roof of the hospital came off and the generators were seen to fail.

SOURCE: Kerry Fevrier, J69YH, in Roseau, Dominica.  – “Trees down, river has flooded half the village, cars are all over, most houses have lost their roofs or are destroyed, the area between his house and the church is just flattened…in his words, ‘devastation is total,’”

RADIO STATIONS

  1. DBS RADIO – DBS went off air at around 3:10am UK time when the roof came off the studio building. As of September 20, still offline.
  2. Wice QFM 95.1 Radio – (Online and taking calls from concerned persons to source information on family members and loved ones).

SUMMARY OF DAMAGE REPORTS BY TOWN OR VILLAGE

BATH ESTATE

  • Collecting information

BELLEVUE

  • Badly hit with reports of a building collapse.

CALIBISHIE

  • Significant roof damage;
  • some roofs lost completely
  • no apparent deaths

CANEFIELD:

  • All roofs that were not concrete are gone.

COCHRANE

  • Took a lot of damage; no specifics
  • No fatalities

COPTHALL:

  • 95% of roofs gone

COULIBISTRIE

  • Severe infrastructural damage

DELICES:

  • Severe flooding
  • most structures destroyed, up to 90%

GOOD HOPE

  • Collecting information

GOODWILL

  • looting and gunshots in the area
  • residents have no radios therefore no access to information

GRAND FOND

  • Collecting information

HIGH CANEFIELD

  • All roofs gone a few hours before the hurricane impacted fully.

KALINAGO TERRITORY

  • No fatalities, collecting more information

LA PLAINE

  • Some buildings thrown off their foundations completely
  • significant damage
  • one bridge destroyed; others intact
  • Container bridge is intact
  • (collecting more information)

LOUBIERRE

  • collecting information

MAHAUT:

  • 95% of roofs gone
  • 2 fatalities

MARIGOT:

  • 1 death

PETIT SOUFRIERE

PORTSMOUTH – via‏ Q95 / @ecdWeather on Twitter, ca. 6PM Sept. 19, 2017:

  • Q95 reported heavy damage to Portsmouth
  • no word on Ross [University] damage
  • 90% roof damage in Portsmouth
  • Streets not passable
  • Comm down on island
  • 5 persons drowned via river/4 missing, one body found; confirmed by police over ham radio.

ROSEAU:

  • Most of the roads are blocked
  • Severe flooding
  • Trees down
  • River flooded half the village
  • Cars are all over
  • most houses have lost their roofs or are destroyed
  • The roof of the hospital came off and the generators were seen to fail.

SAN SAUVIERRE

HURRICANE MARIA LANDFALL NOTES

By ham reports, the center of Hurricane Maria hit Dominica between Petit Soufriere and Marigot with the centre hitting La Plaine and Rosalie. (This information is a bit confusing but by storm tracker mapping reports, the exact center of the eye hit at Petit Soufriere; with 5 miles north landing at Castle Bruce and 5 miles south landing at La Plaine.

UPDATE – SINT MAARTEN AFTER HURRICANE IRMA

8th, September, 2017

UPDATE ON SITUATION IN SINT MAARTEN AFTER HURRICANE IRMA (DUTCH ONLY)

MARINE sailing on the Zr. Ms. Zeeland

Update SXM

Het is te onveilig gebleken om zonder begeleiding Philipsburg in te gaan. Daarom zijn we nu terug aan boord van de zr.ms. Zeeland. De Pelikaan gaat weer terug naar Curaçao.

 

Wij gaan na ons uitstapje weer terug om buitengaats orkaan Jose te ontwijken. De inwoners van SXM hebben waarschijnlijk geen idee dat er nog een tweede orkaan aankomt…

 

Door goede voorbereiding zijn weinig slachtoffers gevallen. Maar deze tweede orkaan kan daar weleens verandering in aanbrengen.

 

Er is geen orde, handhaving en gezag. Pm Marlin moet met bodes zijn ministerraad bijeen roepen. Er is nergens communicatie. Ook huizen van politieagenten zijn verwoest. Winkeleigenaren openen hun deuren en laten mensen shoppen zonder te betalen. Om problemen te voorkomen en vanuit het besef dat iedereen hulpbehoevend is.

 

Patiënten zitten voor het ziekenhuis te wachten om geholpen te worden op straat. 60 nierdialyse patiënten moeten snel geholpen worden, anders is het voor hun te laat. Medische evacuatie is nog niet mogelijk.

 

De landingsbaan is open, maar er is geen ATC, Geen stroom en geen fuel. Alleen militaire vliegtuigen kunnen landen.

 

De journalisten op het eiland kunnen hun verhaal en beeld niet kwijt. Als ze al iets kunnen maken.

 

Ik heb geluk gehad, toen ik m’n vliegtuig miste dinsdag. Nu kan ik werken onder bescherming en logistiek van Defensie. Nederland zal een tandje bij moeten zetten, want alles waar SXM zijn geld mee verdient, zal anders maanden op z’n kop liggen. De economie aan een weggevaagd infuus.

 

Het einde

VOICE MESSAGE FROM MERCHANT ON SINT MAARTEN

VOICE MESSAGE FROM AN ARCHITECT ON CURACAO

 

 

 

Info via: Karin Henken, Architect.

Category 2 Hurricane Irma Poses Extreme Danger

As of 1100AM AST (1100 UTC) today, Tropical Storm Irma developed to hurricane strength, Category 2 within mere hours of its earlier status as a tropical storm this morning. This shows very rapid intensification.

As per the latest data issued by NOAA, the center of Hurricane Irma was located near latitude 16.9 North, longitude 33.8 West. Irma is moving toward the west north west at 10 mph (17 km/h). The system is expected to continue on this trajectory through into Friday. Hurricane Irma is expected to follow a more westward motion on Saturday.

Basic Forecast

Last reported sustained winds are 100 mph (155 km/h) with higher gusts. Irma’s hurricane winds are extending up to 15 miles (30 km/h) from its center and its tropical-storm-force winds are extending outward up to 80 miles (130 km) from its center. Irma’s minimum central pressure is now at 979 mb (28.91 inches).

Using this data, hurricane watchers can use Ventusky’s service to ascertain Hurricane Irma’s trajectory in the following days.

Anticipated Hurricane Strength

Irma was initially expected to gear up to a Category 2 hurricane by early Friday morning but she has beat all expectations and is now clearly on her way to becoming a major hurricane force Category 3 hurricane by later tonight. All this, at least 18 hours ahead of anticipated strengthening. 

TS Irma set to become hurricane
TS Irma Forecast Model August 31, 2017 by WunderMap

While this system is causing much anxiety throughout the Lesser Antilles, the tropical storm system has many meteorologists alert. Some meteorologists expect this system to reach a Category 4, perhaps even a 5.

How Tropical Storm Irma Relates to Dominica

So far, Dominica was on a direct path of the forecast line up to the latest reports. However, this morning, forecasts indicate a slightly lower path over the island of Martinique. Therefore, ALL interests in the Lesser Antilles are advised to follow this system very carefully and stay on the highest alert. The system is expected to make landfall by Wednesday of next week – September 06, 2017.

Though there are no official warnings or watches in effect at the present time, Breezes Cottage would currently advise any guests who are staying with us on or around September 04 through to 07, 2017 and all persons concerned in Dominica to begin planning for a hurricane, even with the possibility that Irma changes its course.

Fore-warnings for Dominica

Residents and citizens are forewarned to begin planning for the possible arrival of a hurricane of at least Category 3 strength and possibly a Category 4 or 5 strength. These strengths pose a serious danger to life and home. Due to the apparent severity of this oncoming system, which appears to be developing into a hurricane of devastating proportions, it is strongly advised that persons must put a hurricane plan in place and to know the best locations for sitting out extreme weather.

For the time being, we would advise the following:

  1. Know the locations of your closest evacuation centers.
  2. Start making plans to evacuate your residence or area as soon as the local authorities advise you to do so.
  3. Ensure that water and food stocks are in good order. If not, do a shopping list and stock up as soon as possible.
  4. Ensure that your stocks of necessary batteries and other supplies for surviving extreme weather are within your grasp. If not, add these to your shopping list.
  5. Ensure that your phones, cell phones, smart devices and satellite devices are in good working order.
  6. Purchase portable chargers or compact external batteries for your cell phones, smart devices and other equipment.  Keep them charged at all times until the increment weather arrives.
  7. Follow all public announcements made by your local authorities.

Summary

At this moment, we do not think that it is advisable to wait until official warnings and watches are in effect. By those times, it is often too late to get all the necessary or adequate supplies as supermarkets are full and tension is high. Access to materials for boarding up homes and buildings is also difficult or poses challenges.

Also factor in the time it would take you to board up all windows and to secure door openings and to build sufficient protection against rising waters. It is much better to be ready, even if a hurricane or storm changes course and spares our island.

 

Tropical Storm Irma Advisory – Lesser Antilles

Advisory

Tropical Storm Irma is intensifying steadily over the far eastern Atlantic. For the time being, all interests in the Lesser Antilles are advised to monitor Irma’s progress over the next couple of days. Furthermore, forecast models show a possible trajectory to these islands. As a result, Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Martinique  lie more or less at the center of this trajectory.

TS Irma Forecast Cone
Forecast Cone for TS Irma Storm Center – 30th Aug 2017, 5:00PM AST showing forecast track line.

Tropical Storm Irma – Formation

Tropical Storm Irma is the ninth tropical storm of the season which formed in the Eastern Atlantic today at or before 11:00 am on Wednesday, August 30, just west of the Cabo Verde Islands.

Current Location & Additional Technical Information

At 500 PM AST (2100 UTC) Wed Aug 30 2017, the center of Tropical Storm Irma was located near latitude 16.4 North, longitude 31.2 West. Irma is moving toward the west near 15 mph (24 km/h). The tropical storm is expected to turn slightly toward the west-northwest at a slower rate of speed for the next couple of days. As the high strengthens, Irma is expected to turn toward the west-southwest around day 4.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds were near 60 mph (95 km/h) at 5:00PM today with higher gusts. Forecasts are showing steady strengthening during the next 48 hours.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km)
from the center.

The storm’s estimated minimum central pressure is 1001 mb (29.56 inches).

Irma is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane as early as Thursday evening. At that time, wind speeds are expected to be around 80 mph (100 km/h) . Should conditions persist as anticipated, this tropical storm is expected to become a Category 2 hurricane by Saturday evening, on the 2nd, September. As a result, wind speeds up to 100 mph (120 km/h) can be anticipated.

The storm’s trajectory as illustrated cannot be relied upon at present and it is still fairly distant towards the east. Consequently, there are no warnings or watches in effect at the present time.

Local & Regional Advisory

The Dominica Meteorological Service expects the system to approach the area by early next week. Please visit its website for more guidance and information.

Weather Forecast for the Next 24 Hours

We expect that weak and unstable conditions will produce cloudiness, shower and isolated thunderstorm activity across parts of the island chain. These conditions are already in effect.

Seas are slight to moderate and are expected to produce waves peaking at near 5.0 feet.

Next Advisory

The next complete advisory from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center will be at 1100 PM AST.

Useful Links

For advise and instructions, please visit our Hurricane Season page for more useful links.

Dominica Vacation Guest House

Breezes Cottage – Charming Vacation Guest House

Breezes Cottage guest house welcomes our guests to the breathtaking and unspoiled island of Dominica. Dominica is known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean and is its primary Eco destination.

GUEST HOUSE LOCATION

Our guest house lies in the center of the Kalinago Territory, which was the last major stronghold of the Caribbean’s indigenous Indians, the Kalinago. Situated on the north-eastern coast of the island and along the winding Old Colonial Road, this vacation residence lies about 300 feet above sea level and within an hour’s drive distance from the most beautiful and remote beaches on the island.

Breezes Cottage Guest House
Breezes Cottage Guest House

Our unique site also provides a great opportunity to roam the charming hamlets while learning about Dominica’s last indigenous Indians. Breezes Cottage simultaneously offers a fantastic opportunity to visit the model Carib Indian village, the Kalinago Barana Autê. Enjoy walking through the peaceful hamlets of the indigenous Carib Indian tribe and, why not taste the local cassava bread at the cassava bread bakery. It is the only cassava bakery of its kind on the island and is also the most delicious cassava bread that we have tasted.

Guest House Description

Breezes Cottage is a charming and cozy vacation guest house, altogether in the style of a residential dwelling. Fully fitted out and entirely independently with its own kitchen, it is one of the most affordable and well-kept guest houses on the island. Moreover, we lie within walking distance to the host’s own charming cottage yet is entirely private. This vacation cottage is wonderfully suited for couples with or without a baby, and can hold up to 3 persons. The cottage serves as a perfect home base from which you can enjoy a relaxing tropical vacation while exploring the island. Take a drive to  Dominica’s best north-east coast beaches.

Please visit our ‘Photos‘ page to view more photos of our guest house.

Key Amenities

  • Solar technology provides hot water for showering.
  • The guest house is very peaceful and entirely private.
  • The full-length porch offers beautiful views over the Atlantic Ocean and the north-eastern coast.
  • The Living and Dining area is fully open plan, very generous and is beautifully appointed.
  • A comfortable bedroom comes with built-in cabinetry.
  • A large bathroom boasts a built-in under-sink cabinetry.
  • Our FREE ADSL and WiFi is a fully independent internet connection and is as a result, not shared with others.
  • The cottage boasts high ceilings and overhead ceiling fans. As a result, rooms provide cooling in an eco-friendly way.
  • Great rental value where rates are very affordable. We offer weekly and monthly rates.
  • Our hostess takes care of you and is furthermore, always helpful and friendly.
  • Guests can order meals at an extra cost as well as arrange other extra services.
  • Guests can arrange airport pick-up and drop-off as add-on costs.
  • The hostess will help you in arranging a personal guided tour as well as assisting you with other advice during your stay.

Please click on the links below to know more about our full range of services and amenities:

Accommodation‘ and ‘Amenities‘, pages.

 

Book this Guest House

Please see our booking options on our Booking page ‘Book Your Stay‘.

CWT Apnoea Freediving Record Attempt – Dominica Dive Fest 2017

Colombian Freediving Champ Sofía Uribe Set to attempt World Record in Freediving

Sofía Gómez Uribe, the Columbian Freediving champ, is preparing to break the world record during the World Underwater Federation (CMAS) Freediving competition. Namely, the Constant Weight Apnoea competition which requires divers to hold their breath up to record depths using either Bifins or a Monofin.

Freediving champion Sofia G. Uribe
CWT Freediving Champion Sofía Gómez Uribe

The freediving competition takes place during the Dominica Dive Fest from ​July 2-16 and is hosted by the Dominica Watersports Association.

Dominica Dive Fest 2017
Dominica Dive Fest 2017

ABOUT CONSTANT WEIGHT FREEDIVING

Constant weight (CWT) is a freediving discipline recognised by the AIDA International (International Association for Development of Apnea). A freediver must descend and ascend using either Bifins or a Monofin, with or without the use of his arms. The ballast weight cannot be changed and pulling is forbidden. Constant weight is one of three diving disciplines considered for international competition, the other two being ‘Static Apnea’ and ‘Dynamic with Fins’.

URIBE’S APNEA FREEDIVING GOAL IS 83+ METERS

Uribe will attempt a CWT BiFin freedive to 83 meters or more. Hosted by the World Underwater Federation (CMAS), the dive gives Sofia a world class opportunity to break the current 2016 record. Dive dates are scheduled for the 3rd, 5th and 7th of July consecutively.

Notwithstanding bad weather, Uribe will enjoy a day of rest between each dive day. Under these circumstances, Uribe’s chances of breaking the world record are considered high, also considering her previous records. Judging from her apparent focus, failure would also appear unlikely.

ABOUT SOFIA GOMEZ URIBE

Sofía Gómez Uribe was born in Pereira, Columbia in 1992 and is 25 years of age today. She currently holds the Pan American and South American records in Apnoea Freediving. All things considered, Uribe appears to have great chances in breaking the world record in the upcoming days.

Sofía will also compete in the 5th Annual International Freediving Competition from August 19th – 21st in the Caribbean Cup 2017. The Caribbean Cup 2017 takes place in Roatan, Bay Island, Honduras.

Watch Sofía’s Training Video Trailer:

THE 2016 APNOEA CWT BIFIN WORLD FREEDIVING CHAMP

Alenka Artnik of Slovenia currently holds the CMAS world record with a depth of 82m which she achieved in 2016. As a result, Sofía Gómez Uribe’s dive must reach a depth of at least one additional meter depth. The CMAS World Championships 2016 was held in Kaş, Turkey. The video below shows Alenka Artnik’s record-breaking dive in Turkey, 2016:-

ABOUT THE DOMINICA DIVE FEST & FREEDIVING

Started in 1994, Dominica’s Dive Fest is the Caribbean’s longest running scuba dive and water-sport festival. 2017 will hence mark its 23rd year since inception. Professional divers ultimately have the opportunity to connect with fellow divers from all over the world. Similarly, children and adults from around the world gather here each year in July to celebrate the Fest. Most noteworthy are whale watching and water sports which attract many visitors. Altogether, participants and celebrants can definitely look forward to an exciting and unforgettable experience.

Courtesy: Breezes Cottage, Dominica – Vacation Cottage in the Carib (Kalinago) Territory