When it developed into a tropical storm on Sunday morning all I could think of was the song by Santana; “Maria, Maria”. My first flight to Barbados got cancelled because of it, but it still wasn’t major enough for me to stop comparing it to a feisty Spanish woman. I don’t think anyone was expecting another major, Category 5 hurricane to develop after catastrophic Irma and Harvey.
But Maria evolved into a Category 2 storm in less than 24 hours and although Saint Lucia and Barbados only experienced the feeder bands of the extremely wide hurricane, both states closed schools by Monday morning. I was nervous as rains poured on the unbelievably flat island of Barbados, and thunder rolled into the latter hours of the morning.
Then my flight home was cancelled. I complained about LIAT at the time but for once it wasn’t entirely the airline’s fault. Saint Lucia had closed all its ports, preventing international and regional flights alike to leave or arrive. Everywhere was closed at home, but I remained frustrated because Bajans were all working despite the government’s warnings.
By the evening of Monday 18 September Hurricane Maria was a fully-fledged Category 5, packing wind speeds of 160 mph. The storm aimed for its target, the nature isle of Dominica, as it was recorded as the third major tropical cyclone in the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season in just about three weeks. Maria was no longer, in my head, the beautiful woman Carlos Santana was referring to, but a massive, wide-spanned, destructive weather system. It fanned across numerous islands but its eye neared Dominica.
Many people were stranded in airports, not just in Barbados but throughout the Caribbean and Miami. However, although tired, hungry and some lonely, they were all safe unlike the approximately 72,000 people in Dominica. Everyone was tracking the hurricane on electronic devices.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Dominica around 9:45p.m. on Monday and by the morning of Tuesday 19 September, the island had been cut off from the rest of the world with no means of communication. Hartley Henry, a senior advisor to Dominica’s prime minister, dispensed whatever he learned via satellite phone.
“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed as a direct result of the hurricane. That figure, the prime minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities,” he wrote on Tuesday. Recent reports show a figure that has more than doubled from the initial seven. Dominica’s main hospital was ravaged leaving occupants vulnerable. Ninety percent of its buildings were damaged and reports of landslides, flooding and destruction emerged from every community.
Maria left Dominica in shreds, its prime minister homeless, and damaged any area for aircraft to land. Then it moved on to the already Irma-ravaged islands. Guadeloupe reported two hurricane-related deaths and Antigua and Barbuda experienced, yet again, hurricane-force winds causing further havoc with their power supplies. Hurricane Maria also affected Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the US Virgin Islands.
The Caribbean stands united in the face of despair, climate change, and tragedy. All island states have pledged support to other hurricane-affected countries. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica was able to publically give a small glimpse of encouragement at a town hall on Thursday 21 September. He described the storm by saying, “This hurricane knew no political affiliation, it knew no religious inclination, it knew no class whatsoever. Every single person was impacted by this hurricane.” Then as a reminder to everyone affected, including himself, he noted, “The situation is grave and it’s going to take us a long time to get back on our feet. But we are very hopeful. We’re coming from Erica two years ago and the cost of getting back to where we were.”
The storm then hurled itself to Puerto Rico, thrashing everything as its eye coordinated with the centre of the island’s landmass. Puerto Rico had not experienced a hurricane of this magnitude for almost a century and 100% of residents were left without power, possibly for months. This U.S. territory was already faced with immense debt and financial strain and escaped Hurricane Irma at full-force. Now Puerto Ricans are left to wallow through metres of water from flash-flooding and topless houses.
As Hurricane Maria continues on its course it will hopefully leave the U.S. and other islands less affected than Dominica and Puerto Rico. However, the 2017 Hurricane Atlantic season will only officially end on November 30. So far costs for recovery from natural disaster have skyrocketed billions of dollars past Caribbean islands’ gross domestic product (GDP).