Hurricane Maria continued to rip through the Caribbean Thursday, battering one island after the next — many of them still recovering from Irma. As the islands took stock of the damage, the death toll climbed to at least 20.
In the small island nation of Dominica, where Maria made landfall with punishing Category 5 winds Monday night, at least 15 people were killed and more than 16 are still missing, the island’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said Thursday.
Skerrit — who had to be rescued from his home after the roof was torn away by the winds — flew by helicopter to Antigua Thursday, where in an interview with ABS Television he said the country was “devastated”.
“We’ve never seen such destruction — unprecedented,” he said. “It will take us a very long to get back to our status.”
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The hurricane isolated Dominica, knocking out its communications and transportation connections with nearby islands. The Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, CDEMA, said the entire island and all of its 57,000 people were affected by the storm. The capital city of Roseau is flooded, the Canefield airport is covered with debris and the Roseau hospital has been damaged, the agency said.
Puerto Rico was also pummeled by the storm. The island suffered a direct hit when Maria made landfall early Wednesday morning, killing several people in the mountainous central region of Utuado, according to local press accounts. Another person died aboard a boat, the Associated Press reported.
Puerto Ricans emerged from their homes and shelters Wednesday to devastation: roofs torn from houses, trees ripped from their roots and the entire island’s power grid wiped out by punishing winds and rains. The damage is still being assessed.
In the Virgin Islands, where Maria plowed through St. Croix, Gov. Kenneth Mapp called the previous day “difficult and exhausting for the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, especially our friends, family, neighbors and communities on St. Croix.”
Mapp said the islands will continue to work with agencies on the U.S. mainland to clean up and reconstruct the U.S. territory. “My prayer is for renewed strength and resolve to rebuild all of our islands in the wake of these two terrible storms,” he said. “We are strong and we are resilient.”
St. Thomas also sustained damage, with cell service and most radio stations down, no electricity and blocked roads, according to Lisa Posey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Virgin Islands government.
In the British Virgin Islands, minor landslides occurred and roads on the west end of Tortola island were damaged, CDEMA reported.
Before hitting the Virgin Islands, Maria battered the coastline of Nevis, leaving the entire island without power, according to CDEMA.
In the French territory of Guadeloupe, two people were killed and two remained missing Wednesday, though the death toll is expected to climb. The French government announced plans to declare a natural disaster for the island by the end of the week, according to AFP.
“This has been a very, very difficult season for the region,” said Kenneth Merten, the U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, during a press call Thursday afternoon. “We’re very cognizant of the fact that we have several more months to go in hurricane season. I’m not predicting anything, but we’re going to remain very vigilant.”
The State Department and USAID are working with Caribbean governments to provide assistance to the impacted islands. Their focus right now is on repairing structural damage to homes and water systems and providing food and water, said Tim Callaghan, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader.
“The main issue at this point is damage to people’s homes, damaged roads, bridges and water systems,” Callaghan said in a press call. “That’s what we’re hearing so far. We have not heard a large number of people missing at this point.”
USAID expects to keep hurricane relief teams in the Caribbean for at least the next few weeks, Callaghan said.
Other countries have also sent support. The Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency deployed a six-person search and rescue team to Dominica on Tuesday. Disaster experts from the United Kingdom also traveled to the island.
In his interview with ABS Television on Thursday, Skerrit made a heart-wrenching appeal for helicopters to fly out critically ill patients, especially those on dialysis.
“That’s one of our concerns,” he said. “We have quite a number of patients who require dialysis treatment. The last time they got it was Monday.”
One man walked 21 miles into the capital of Roseau to receive his treatment, Skerrit said. The island’s main hospital had no electricity and its intensive care unit was destroyed, he said.
Family members of another dialysis patient told Skerrit that if they don’t get the patient out, he will soon die. “It’s absolutely urgent that we get him out,” Skerrit said.
Dominica’s mountainous crags also exacerbate the risk of lethal landslides triggered by Maria’s remnant rains.
“The country is in a daze — no electricity, no running water, as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities, and definitely no land-line or cell phone services on island, and that will be for quite a while,” Hartley Henry, a principal adviser to Skerrit, wrote in an email to the Herald.