By Caroline Haga

Trevor Jean Baptiste and his family are among the more than 70,000 people whose lives have been devastated by hurricane Maria, which devastated their home island of Dominica in the Caribbean.

What used to be a picturesque village by the sea is now a scene of almost total destruction. Many of the houses have collapsed. Of those still standing, most of them have no roofs. Electricity poles have snapped and the road leading down to the shore is littered with large rocks and other debris blocking the doors of houses. We are in Saint Joseph on the western coast of Dominica.

By the side of the road sits Trevor Jean Baptiste, 45, holding his one-year-old son Kamal. Trevor Jean, his wife Desiree Pita, and their children – son Kamal and two-week-old baby girl Dinaiah – are among the more than 70,000 people whose lives have been devastated by hurricane Maria. The category 5 hurricane struck Dominica on 18 September leaving at least 25 dead and demolishing houses, roads and forests in every part of the island.

“It was terrible. I thought we all would die,” Trevor Jean says hugging his son tightly. “I’ve experienced storms before, but nothing like this.”

Trying to shield the children

As the storm approached the family sought shelter with their neighbors on the upper floors of their house – they watched as their ground-floor apartment quickly filled with water from the overflowing river nearby. Moments later, the wall of the room they were sheltering in collapsed. Trevor Jean rushed his children to the only safe place he could think of.

“We hid in the small space under the staircase. I tried to shield my babies with a table but they still ended up soaking wet,” he said.

They now face having to rebuild their whole life.  Across the island, almost all houses have been demolished, crops destroyed and 75 per cent of the natural landscape swept away.

Tremendous needs

“People urgently need emergency food, water and fuel as supplies are running out,” says Steve McAndrew, IFRC Head of Operations. “With rain forecaste, tarpaulins, blankets and housing materials are critical to ensure shelter for everyone.”

“The needs are overwhelming. As the world’s attention turns to tragedies in other parts of the world, the tiny island nation of Dominica is doing the best it can to face one of the worst disasters in its history.”

“We’re working with the Dominica Red Cross staff and volunteers to ensure that critical emergency aid reaches them as quickly as possible. We have mobilized a first aid plane with five tonnes of tarpaulins, blankets and other urgently needed supplies. Other relief flights are expected with support from our Red Cross Red Crescent partners around the world.”

International Red Cross teams are on the ground in Dominica assessing the needs for health, shelter, cash support, and water and sanitation, and further staff are being deployed in the coming week to ensure that all physical and psychosocial needs are met. IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for 1.6 million Swiss francs. Even when the preliminary needs are met, it will take a long time, likely years, to rebuild the nation and people’s livelihoods. The Dominica Red Cross will continue its efforts to support the population in the long term.