By Hler Gudjonsson, IFRC

Months after Hurricane Maria, the inhabitants of Dominica are still struggling to recover from the destruction. The hurricane, which struck on 18 September 2017, was the worst disaster caused by a natural phenomenon on the island in recent memory, bringing winds of up to 250 kilometers per hour (category 5), as well as torrential rains, floods and landslides.

Many elderly people struggling to cope with their hardships

“The whole roof of my house was torn off completely,” said 66 years Robert Timothy, who is a retired carpenter in Tarish Pit, Saint George parish. He is one of more than 15,000 people who have been receiving tarpaulins, jerry cans, hygiene kits and other relief items from the Dominica Red Cross Society (DRCS) since the beginning of its International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) supported hurricane operation.

According to government and UNDP assessments,18.5 per cent of all buildings on the Caribbean island were destroyed by Hurricane Maria and more than 25.5 per cent had major damage, leaving tens of thousands of people without a roof over their heads. Most of the other buildings in the country were also damaged to some degree. In the recovery phase, the DRCS, with support from the IFRC, will provide roofing materials and skilled labor for 1000 vulnerable households in Dominica, but the damage is so extensive that it will take a long time before most of the affected households have recovered from their losses.

“I am too old to get a job in construction, but I hope that I can at least rebuild my own home”, Robert said, glancing at the big stacks of salvaged roofing materials that he has collected in the ruins of his house. The large elderly population on the island has been particularly badly hit by the disaster as most of them do not earn an income and cannot afford to rebuild their homes.

“I owned four small houses before the hurricane, but they were all completely destroyed,” said 67 years old Felton Bougouneau, who now lives with his wife Melinda in a tiny shack on the mountain slope in Fond Cole, Saint George parish, cooking his meals on an open fire on the mud floor. “But I am not complaining,” Felton said cheerfully when the Red Cross visited him during the relief distribution, “at least we have a roof over our heads.”

Most schools have reopened, but many children have not yet returned to class because of difficult circumstances at home. Almost everybody in Dominica was affected by the hurricane, and also many of the teachers lost their houses.

Parents struggle to provide shelter for their children

“During the hurricane we all sought shelter on the lower floor of our house. The whole upper floor was completely blown away and everything inside was destroyed by wind and water,” said Victoria Williams, who is a primary school teacher in Salisbury Valley, Saint George parish. The Dominica Red Cross has made a special effort to help mothers with young children and Victoria received diapers and other basic relief items as part of the IFRC supported hurricane response.

“The things we got from the Red Cross will really make a difference”, says Christine Francis, a young mother who is now without a job, lives with her husband and her newborn baby in a small hut in Salisbury. In addition to losing their homes, so many people have also lost all of their income as the companies they worked for were destroyed or had to close down. The diapers, tarpaulins and hygiene items distributed to Christine and other parents go a long way to cover at least their most basic and urgent needs.

Meanwhile, as the people of Dominica slowly rebuild their livelihoods, homes and infrastructure they can only hope that the upcoming hurricane season, starting in June, will not bring more destruction to their beautiful island.