ROSEAU, Dominica, August 28, 2015 (AMG) — Fourteen are dead and another twenty-five people are missing as Tropical Storm Erika brought devastation to Dominica in a way that had seemingly not been anticipated by the island’s government or emergency planners.
By Wednesday, Erika was forecast to hit Antigua & Barbuda head-on but veered south between Barbuda and Guadeloupe. Since then, over fifteen inches of rain inundated the island and overwhelmed its infrastructure. By midday on Thursday, intense rains associated with the storm caused rivers to burst their banks, triggering intense flooding and mudslides. A final death toll is not expected until full communication facilities are restored.
The bodies of an elderly, blind man and two children were recovered following a mudslide in the southeast of the island, and a fourth body was recovered in Roseau. Ten more bodies have been recovered since this morning. Electricity, telephone and water utilities have been disrupted on the island, while bridges and roads have been destroyed, cutting off some areas – particularly Petite Savanne – from the rest of the country. A road linking Pichlen to Grandbay has also been cut off.
“It is very, very serious in Petite Savanne”, said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who estimated that the cost of fixing homes, roads, bridges and other infrastructure would run in the tens of millions of dollars.
Skerrit is expected to tour Petite Savanne this morning by helicopter, and the government’s priority on Friday will be to ramp up its search and rescue efforts. Rescue teams from Venezuela, France, and Trinidad & Tobago are expected in Dominica today, and France has already airlifted medical personnel into Petite Savanne.
“This is a disaster of epic proportions… the damage is massive”, said Skerrit in an update to the media this afternoon.
Other critical infrastructure, including the island’s airports, remain closed. Flights into and out of the island have also been suspended until further notice.
“The situation is grim. It is dangerous,” said Ian Pinard, Dominica’s communications minister.
The two major telecommunications companies on the island both reported that they were working to restore service to affected areas, and the national power company is continuing efforts to restore electricity to homes.
Trail of havoc: Tropical Storm Erika continued on a west-northwesterly motion towards Hispaniola – the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti – which is particularly prone to devastation from flooding.
A tropical storm warning remans in place for Puerto Rico and The Bahamas, where Erika is expected to dump a maximum of twelve inches of rain by Saturday. “These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds were 50mph with higher gusts, with tropical storm force winds extending up to 150 miles from the storm’s eye.
American Airlines has offered waivers of change fees on flights to Puerto Plata, St. Kitts, Antigua & Barbuda, the US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, San Juan and Guadeloupe. JetBlue has also extended a change and cancellation fee waiver for Friday flights to and from St. Maarten, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Aguadilla, Ponce and San Juan.
Regional response: Messages of condolence and support have been sent to the government of Dominica by the governments of St. Lucia and Martinique, with the Antiguan Ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, calling for urgent international relief to the affected country.
I feel deep sympathy and concern for Dominica. The loss of life is tragic and my prayers are with the affected families. The damage to the country has set back its economy and will negatively impact employment and further strain the government in the rebuilding process. The international community must act swiftly to give Dominica relief.
— Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador of Antigua & Barbuda
to the United States and the Organisation of American States
The St. Lucia-based Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has also issued a statement, stating that it was coordinating between Member States, donors and international organisations to ensure the best possible actions for Dominica.
Unique vulnerabilities: Dominica and other small island economies in the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to exogenous shocks, such as seasonal storms and natural disasters. Damage associated with storms can and have eclipsed the value of the gross domestic products of countries hard-hit by disasters in the region. This reality has been underscored by donors and international organisations such as the UN, which for the first time, included concepts of resilience and vulnerability in its assessment of human development.
Caribbean and Pacific diplomats, within the ambit of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) caucus at the United Nations, have long expressed concern over small islands’ capacity to cope with these vulnerabilities, and have linked climate change to the exacerbation of serious weather events. “What happened in Dominica yesterday shows the critical need for the Caribbean to continue its negotiation for disaster funding in a global climate deal, expected this year in Paris”, a senior CARICOM diplomat told AMG.
AMG will continue coverage of the search and rescue efforts in Dominica, and the continuing impacts of the storm in the wider Caribbean.