It has been three months since Hurricane Ida ripped through Dominica, rendering devastation from a single storm that neighbors in Houston and Oklahoma can barely recognize.
One resident, who spoke with CNN on the condition of anonymity, described first hearing about the storm three weeks after it swept through her village. The island’s governor summoned all occupants of Irma-impacted homes to meet at the dock and receive a contingency plan from the government.
The woman, whose home had been destroyed by a flood and who knows “all” her neighbors now reside in the muster center, sat in front of a group of grim-faced men who had descended on the site under ominous-looking yellow tarps and Navy bags.
“That’s about it,” the woman told CNN, describing the meeting held in August. “We didn’t have no food or anything, we just came for a few days. We weren’t even told to prepare a post-hurricane inventory because there’s no electricity, so we just come here and meet with them.”
Four months later, while nearby, residents set off fireworks as a celebration marking the new year. In one instance, young men stormed into the campsite and started to beat and riot. Local authorities ordered them out. Hours later, something similar happened, prompting a police response that left some people injured.
Last Sunday, the woman attended another gathering by the shore and found her neighbors stocking up on food. Soon after, she reported, “lots of young people and tourists were walking around here trying to leave.”
On an island with almost 22,000 residents, the destruction was overwhelming and personal. Vicky Haynes, 62, a single mother of four living in a single-room, mud-filled dwelling where she has lived since Irma, was flying to New York City to prepare to join her daughter and grandchildren.
A displaced Dominica resident shared her first photos from her makeshift shelter.
“I would never dream that I would have to return to the conditions that I have been living with just five days’ notice, without any possibility to be relocated,” she said. “I would just like to go back home.”
An estimated 300,000 people across the Caribbean are still living in temporary shelter following one of the strongest storms on record, one that tore over a half-million housing units from their foundations.
Fueled by typhoon-strength winds, Hurricane Ida traveled North Atlantic toward Antigua and Barbuda and Haiti before spinning past Dominica and causing widespread destruction on Sept. 9. Hurricane season in the Caribbean lasts for roughly three months. In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida, officials in the Antigua and Barbuda have ordered 75,000 tarps to protect its territory’s facilities.
Dominica’s government is still scrambling to rehabilitate homes that have been completed but are now destroyed. Aid groups have been holding the fort for homeowners in Dominica, like the woman who has already been displaced five times. One such aid group, local Dominica non-profit Helping Hands, is conducting inspections to see if victims have completed the repairs they are obligated to make under local authority orders.
The country is scheduled to receive roughly $250 million in foreign aid. The government has attempted to pass restrictive laws to stem the flow of foreigners who have returned to the country after the hurricane, charging donors and charities with a 25% duty, a move that some aid groups say has jeopardized the recovery.
In a span of three months, the body count in Dominica surpassed 100.
Speaking to CNN from Dominica, the woman who lives with her children described what life was like immediately after the hurricane.
“Every day we went to the post office and the person would say, ‘How long has it been since you’ve posted to me? When can you get that truck to us?’”
“We would say it was two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. We did our best to post to her, but there was no truck, so it was the government that helped us get the truck and then we received the truck. In September, you see the power was turned off, and they just left us with a chance for our children to go to school because there was no power.”
“I want to work, my kids can’t go to school. I’m not going to deny that,” she said. “I’m trying my best, just trying to keep going and trying to survive with the help of the people that I know.”