Students feel effects of Hurricane Maria


Judelle Tyson

As Hurricane Maria churned through the Caribbean last Monday, its first stop was a direct hit to the island of Dominica. According to the country’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit via a live broadcast from Antigua on Thursday, Hurricane Maria left the country in a complete disarray and it would take a very long time to get the country back to what it once was.

“Every village, every street, every cranny, every person in Dominica was impacted by the hurricane. We have no running water, no electricity, very limited telecommunication services by WhatsApp mainly,” Skerrit said in the broadcast.

Skerrit went on to say that the island has never seen such destruction and it would take a long time for them to “bounce back.” Residents who didn’t evacuate to shelters had tried to ride out the storm in their homes, but Maria had different plans for them, leading them to resort to unconventional ways to survive, Skerrit included.

“People were just exposed to the elements of the hurricane, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. People were hiding in their cupboards, cramping themselves in their kitchen cupboards to survive. In my case for example, I had to put a mattress over my head with two police officers to prevent the falling roof from coming onto us,” Skerrit said in the broadcast.

While Hurricane Maria made its rounds, Dominican students still had no idea if their families had survived the catastrophic storm — the longer it took for them to hear from their loved ones, the more worry and fear gnawed at them.

Radiology sophomore Beyandra Blanchard said that she was finally able to connect with her family today after waiting two days, and this has been the most emotional she has felt in a while.

“I spoke to family today. I finally heard from them a whole two and a half days after the storm. Two and a half days had never felt so long. This is the most emotional I’ve been in a long time. It’s hard to be fully focused on anything while you’re wondering if your family is nourished and clean,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard further expressed her concern for her family and her community of Point Michel which was severely affected by the storm and though the community can be rebuilt, it is nothing compared to the 18 lives lost.

“My main concern is their water and supply. There is no running water and the roads have been compromised by debris so going to the city to get food and water is tasking. I’m also concerned about their safety-people are becoming agigated and violent,” Blanchard said. “Point Michel was one of the most severely affected communities. My family members all lost their roof and most of their possessions. The community is nearly unrecognizable from the footage I’ve seen. The structural damage isn’t extensive and can be rebuilt. The same cannot be said for the 18 lives claimed.”

All is not lost for the Dominica and although the island has been knocked to its knee, their Caribbean brothers and sisters have already started to assist in the form of food supplies, money, clothing, and essential items.

“There are NGO’s [non-governmental organization] in Trinidad, Antigua, Barbados, etc. who have started sending aid in the form of supplies,” Blanchard said.

Like Blanchard, nursing sophomore Dominique Newton was completely oblivious to the state his family was in and was finally able to communicate with his family last Friday.

“I was not able to get into contact with my parents or my family up until Friday, my mom had initially went to the radio station nearby in the capital and had asked them to send out a broadcast to let her kids in the US know she was okay. My friends heard it up here and told me what she said and though I had not heard from her directly I knew that she was okay because of that broadcast, but I had not spoken to her directly and because I knew about what was going on back home I still wanted to hear from her directly,” Newton said. “I finally got to hear from her on Sunday morning and it was a huge relief, I felt like the conversation we had set my mind and my heart at peace somewhat and I’m just glad to know that she is alive and okay.”

Though this is a very difficult time for him, Newton says that he intends to be strong and push forward as his family wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I am trying my best to hold on, I am trying my best to be strong, it is not an easy time at all with school, with work, with being an active member of an organization, it is a lot to juggle and also with my family now just what they’re going through, it is a lot on my back, however I do know what they’d want from me and I do know that they’d want me to continue so I am pressing forward, I also made committment to my organization and to myself and I’m just trying to be strong for my family, for myself and also for the other Dominican students up here so that they see that I’m pushing forward and holding strong so they can lean on me and essentially do the same and be strong as well. So that is where I am,” Newton said.

Maria was a powerful category 5 storm and the force it came with caused great destruction to almost every home on 291 square miles island. Newton’s family were also victims of the devastating structural damage, yet he remains thankful and hopeful for the future.

“Our house like everyone else was badly destroyed, our roof was pretty much ripped out, all of our windows were pulled out and part of our house is destroyed, but again life takes precedence and I am thankful that she is safe and alive,” Newton said. “I believe the damage sustained in Dominica is significant, this has been by far the worst thing to every happen to my country. As a kid we were told about Hurricane David and how it sent Dominica forty years behind and that was a category 4. Last week we were hit by a category 5 and it just completely destroyed communities and it just left my people not in the best of places, but time and time has shown again that Caribbean people and my people we rebuild. My people are strong-willed, they are passionate and they are very patriotic, we had tropical storm Erica which completed devastated my country and we rebuilt after that, and here we are again and we will rebuild again, although this hurricane did much more damage, but as always we will rebuild. ”

According to Newton, the support and help from other Caribbean islands, CSO, students and other organizations here at MSU is synonymous in getting Dominica back on its feet.

“Thanks to the other Caribbean islands that have been sending food and clean water back to my country as their is a food shortage there now,” Newton said. “The Caribbean Students Organization has no added Dominica to its relief endeavor for the Caribbean per their Carib Fest contributions and I’m pretty sure that CSO has a lot more plan to get students all the help that they can.”

According to Director of International  Student Services Dr. Randy Glean, several mechanisms have been put in place for those students affected and the faculty and staff have been made aware of these mechanisms so that they can better accommodate these students.

“We put in an intervention so they could miss class the following day and professors were informed. Set up an immediate meeting to inform students of all the safeguards in place. Set up a structure for all students to make calls from my office at no cost. Those owing installments can miss payment with no late fee…and pay later in the semester. Students at Colony Park and Forest Glen can pay October rent in November. We contacted the local food pantry to provide a contingency plan for emergency supplies. We have holding open hours so that students can come in to speak of any personal issues or emergency needs,” Glean said. “Collaborated with Hunans’s for a  late night $5 grab box is available every night they want to take food home. Spoke to political officials and got assurance that they will work with us to assist further after things settle. Speaking to shipping lines to allow students to send a barrel of supplies home to families. Set up structures for fundraising on campus for hurricane relief. Students who visited and expressed concerns about finances were given the assurance of short term support.”

Dr. Glean also said that students can contact him freely after hours should they feel the need.

Hurricane relief efforts have been set up by CSO to aid in assisting the islands affected and below is a list of items they are collecting and areas of drop off:

Items to be collected:

  • School supplies
  • Baby necessities (pampers, food, clothes, toiletries)
  • Nonperishable food items
  • General toiletries

Main area of storage/drop off:

  • Colony Park Apartment 41

On campus spots:

  • Clark Student Center (Rec. Room)
  • Moffet Library
  • McCoy School of Engineering
  • Dillard College of Business
  • Legacy Hall
  • Killingsworth Hall
  • The Athletic Office (D.L. Ligon Coliseum)