By Kaelanne Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau and Dominican-born priests serving in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain were desperate for news of their loved ones last Wednesday after the passage of Category 5 Hurricane Maria. Dominica has been virtually cut off as all forms of communication appeared to be affected up to September 20.
Bishop Malzaire, who was in Atlanta, Georgia attending a Stewardship Conference September 16–20, told Catholic News that he has been unable to make contact with anyone in the diocese. The bishop, in a WhatsApp conversation last Wednesday said: “Being away is not very easy. The moral support is needed. It’s not a good feeling at all. It’s one time I feel that I should be home in Dominica. I have no idea what went on with the churches, presbyteries” and a number of deaths “I expect the worst when I get home in terms of destruction in property,” he said.
The bishop reported that before leaving for the conference, the diocese was not under any hurricane watch. He said that he received updates from TDN Radio (tdnradio.net), which had been broadcasting using the internet servers of Dominica’s local radio station Q95 FM. “I was listening all through until the hurricane hit. You could hear the reports; people were giving negative news,” he said.
Bishop Malzaire mentioned that after Maria’s passing, his initial plan was to board a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico and then take a pirogue to Dominica. However, Maria pummeled Puerto Rico last Wednesday. He will now go to St Lucia and then via the Express des Isle ferry to Dominica.
Asked his plan of action when he returns to his diocese, he replied, “That I don’t know. I imagine people are desperate. But whatever can be done I will do.” He noted that the biggest challenge will be communications. On a positive note, he said that he received calls from organisations ready to assist in relief efforts including the Food for the Poor, and the Church’s relief organisation, Caritas Internationalis.
Meanwhile, Fr Jayson Grell FMI of the San Juan/Mt Lambert Cluster told Catholic News that he and Dominican-born Fr Cornelius Phillip FMI, moderator of the cluster, are both “panicking” as they too have been unable to make contact with anyone on the island. “It’s very challenging…If I get a sense that they are not dead [then] it puts you at peace.”
Fr Grell said that his last conversation with family was between 7 and 8 p.m. on Monday, and they were not anticipating such a powerful hurricane. “It may have taken them by surprise. They were expecting a Category 2 or 3… They were expecting it to hit, but not as a Category 5,” he said.
Like Fr Grell, Fr Elton Letang CSsR, moderator, Barataria/El Socorro Cluster was anxious as his last conversation with his family was at 10 p.m. Monday. He said that although his family prepared, they were very afraid. “They all moved from their house in Giraudel (South Dominica) next door into my sister’s home because she has a concrete roof structure,” he said.
Conversing with his grandmother, she mentioned to Fr Letang that Hurricane Maria appeared to be “much stronger” than Category 5 Hurricane David in 1979. Fr Letang said he was also in contact with his friend, Robert Guiste who in turn was keeping touch with Fr Letang’s family on his behalf. “I was informing him where the eye was and where it would pass,” Fr Letang said.
Guiste told Fr Letang that a neighbour’s new house had “blown out”, that his (Guiste’s) home had already suffered damages with broken windows, and that he was concerned for the safety of his wife and children. “I wish I was there to encourage and support them,” said Fr Letang. “My mom [Louisa Oscar] is afraid of these things…It’s just a matter of getting to know if everyone is okay. It’s very frightening…” He plans to visit Dominica as soon as he can.
Bishop Jason Gordon of Bridgetown (Barbados) relayed that a pilot who has flown rescue missions in the Caribbean for two decades reported that Hurricane Maria is “by far the worst he has seen. Worse than Haiti after the earthquake.”
“No word yet from Bishop Robert [Llanos], (Apostolic Administrator, St John’s- Basseterre, Antigua) who was in the BVI last night and would have faced Maria in a very compromised structure,” he said via email. Bishop Gordon said several of the islands were in “deep trouble”. For some territories there will be British, French and the Dutch assistance; others will only have their Caribbean neighbours to help. “This will test our solidarity and resolve. We need to mobilise our people to prayer and action,” the bishop said.
Bishop Gordon revealed that a lot of the rescue operations are moving through Barbados and he’s trying to get a flight to the troubled areas to lend support and solidarity and take some supplies.
Last Wednesday, a WhatsApp message from Hartley Henry, Principal Adviser to the Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was shared with Catholic News. In it, Henry stated that the island suffered tremendous loss of housing and public buildings. “The main general hospital took a beating. Patient care has been compromised. Many buildings serving as shelters lost roofs….The country needs the support and continued help and prayers of all.”
On Tuesday, the Office of the Prime Minister collaborated with various agencies including the Ministries of National Security, Foreign and Caricom Affairs, the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, the National Helicopters Services Limited (NHSL), the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), Caribbean Airlines and the Immigration Department to provide assistance to Dominica.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has also been liaising with the Caricom Secretariat and other Caricom members to obtain information and work out the logistics of providing support and assistance to the island.
A Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard vessel departed for Dominica around midnight, Tuesday and an NHSL helicopter departed early Wednesday morning.