A direct hit by Tropical Storm Erika last week wreaked havoc on the small Caribbean island nation of Dominica. In response, a team of volunteers in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States is coordinating relief efforts for the survivors among Dominica’s population.
The Commonwealth of Dominica has just 70,000 people but at least 20 of them were killed by flooding and mudslides in the wake of Tropical Storm Erika, with another three dozen still missing or unaccounted for. Smaller in territory than New York City, the rugged and mountainous Dominica is the northernmost of the Windward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean.
In an exclusive interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on August 30, Adella Toulon-Foerster, a spokesperson for the new organization, Rebuild Dominica, said that the situation has “been crazy. There was no advance warning for this one. The island is accustomed to getting tropical storms and hurricanes. Tropical storms usually come and dump some water but people just generally stay inside and wait it out.”
Landslides and devastation
What made Tropical Storm Erika worse, she said, is that it came after previous rains had softened up the soil, making the island already waterlogged and prone to landslides, which caused so much devastation.
The village of Petite Savanne, she pointed out, had the most casualties and has been completely cut off from the rest of Dominica. It is accessible only by helicopter.
The island’s infrastructure has been badly damaged, said Toulon-Foerster, a Dominica native who was briefly a resident of Charlottesville about ten years ago and currently lives in Northern Virginia.
“At least three bridges have been washed away, completely destroyed,” she explained. “Many villages are cut off from each other. Cell phone service is limited, cell towers were washed away. People are going by boat to get water and relief and just the basics to people.”
Neighboring island countries that were not hit by Erika have already come to Dominica’s aid, she added.
“There have been a lot of volunteers from the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, going by boat to get people water and to get sick people out of villages that have been cut off.”
Help has also come from Barbados and from Antigua and Barbuda. “The Eastern Caribbean has been pouring out their help to us,” Toulon-Foerster said.
A group of Dominican expatriates in the Washington area met on August 29 to create an ad-hoc relief organization, Rebuild Dominica, which is arranging for collections of necessities that will be shipped to the island this week.
The short-term plan, she said, “is to get needed relief items to the island as soon as possible: food, clothing, shoes, medical supplies. We put together a group in charge of logistics. Our first shipment goes out Wednesday.”
Items to help families in Dominica are being collected at Evangel Assembly of God, located at 5900 Old Branch Avenue in Temple Hills, Maryland. The Government of Dominica has also set up a special bank account that can accept monetary donations by wire.
Nationwide relief efforts
Toulon-Foerster said that other relief committees have emerged throughout the United States.
“We have heard from people in Texas, New York, Florida, in Alaska, in New Jersey,” she said. ”In every single major metropolitan area of the country, we’ve seen an outpouring of relief efforts. People are rallying. It’s really overwhelming.”
According to a news release distributed by Rebuild Dominica, “More information about the new organization is available on its web site at http://RebuildDominica.org, through the Twitter handle @RebuildDominica, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/RebuildDominica.”