Death toll rises as Hurricane Maria swamps Caribbean

Aerial footage shows Hurricane Maria damage in Dominica

Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage to the Caribbean island of Dominica after it made landfall as a category 5 storm late on Monday, September 18. Aerial footage filmed by the Regional Security System (RSS) shows collapsed buildings and debri
Up Next
Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage to the Caribbean island of Dominica after it made landfall as a category 5 storm late on Monday, September 18. Aerial footage filmed by the Regional Security System (RSS) shows collapsed buildings and debri

As Hurricane Maria throttled Puerto Rico just before dawn, other Caribbean islands awoke Wednesday to take stock of the one-two punch of two devastating hurricanes this month.

In Maria’s tear through the Caribbean, the hurricane has killed at least nine people. Seven of the deaths were reported in Dominica and two in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe.

And Maria wasn’t even done with the Caribbean. Hurricane warnings were in effect for the northeastern cost of the Dominican Republic, where the center of the hurricane is expected to pass offshore Wednesday night and Thursday, and for the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas, which are expected to get a sideswipe Thursday night and Friday.

Dominican Republic Hurricane Maria
A woman covers herself with a plastic bag as she makes her way to work as Hurricane Maria approaches the coast of Bavaro, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday. Tatiana Fernandez AP

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned residents to stay indoors Wednesday even as high winds subsided because of the danger of flash floods. “This is a moving, living creature,” he said.

But Frederiksted resident Malik Stridiron was driving around water-soaked streets in St. Croix providing commentary, posting video on social media, and “assessing for everyone” as he said, until his minivan got a flat tire and he put out an SOS for help. His car video showed wide swaths of toppled trees and debris from homes scattered in the streets.

St. Thomas and St. John were still in early recovery mode from Hurricane Irma when Maria walloped St. Croix. Most communications lines were down to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and for most of the day only one radio station was operating.

While Irma spared Dominica, the southernmost of the Leeward Islands, Maria hit Monday night as a Category 5 storm. The news from Dominica, which was virtually cut off from the rest of the world for more than a day, was not good.

Hartley Henry, a principal adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, finally spoke with the Dominican leader via satellite phone at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The prime minister, who had to be rescued after the roof blew off his house, said his family was fine but Dominica was not. Skerrit declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.

He reported seven confirmed fatalities, a tremendous loss of housing and public buildings, severe damage to the main hospital with patient care compromised, hurricane shelters without roofs, and a desperate need for relief supplies and materials to provide shelter.

“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 cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite awhile,” wrote Henry in an email.

Landslides and washed-out roads are making transportation difficult around the island, said Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. He said it appears Dominica’s entire population has in some way been affected by Maria. Forty people from CDEMA were already on the ground and 40 more relief workers were en route, he said.

Among the most critical needs are tarpaulins and other roofing materials, bedding supplies, food, water purification drops and helicopter service to take supplies to outer districts in the mountainous country.

The United States issued a statement saying it was in the process of coordinating “the best possible package of assistance” for the region.

Other Caribbean islands also were in recovery mode from Maria, Irma or both.

France Hurricane Maria
French firefighters and military rescue team board a military plane at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, France. They will assist with Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the French Caribbean islands. About 25,000 households lost electricity and two small towns are without potable water after Maria swiped Martinique. Michel Euler AP

In St. Kitts and Nevis, Bradshaw International Airport reopened Wednesday at 11 a.m. and essential services were operating. Rapid assessment teams were deployed to determine the extent of damages, and residents were advised to remain indoors even though storm watches and warnings were discontinued. Maria’s eye passed 90 miles west southwest of the two islands.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Brantley was clearly getting fed up with a month that has seen three hurricanes — Irma, José and Maria — swirl in the Caribbean. In a tweet that included other hurricane-fatigued islands, he said, “We can take no more.”

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

Follow Jacqueline Charles on Twitter: @Jacquiecharles