“Mommy, don’t cry,” says four-year-old Adriana Joseph, with tears welling in her eyes, as the overflowing river rushes dangerously under their feet and into their house. “The hurricane will calm down,” she adds trying to comfort her mum.
But her mother, Abigail Walsh, broke down in tears. It was 8pm and Hurricane Maria had just started unleashing its Category Five force upon the island of Dominica without mercy.
Adriana’s house flooded in a matter of seconds, leaving them with little time to react to save their lives.
Abruptly, the electricity in the house went off.
Water up to her knees, Adriana couldn’t find her mother in the darkness of the room. The noise of the rain, strong winds and overflowing river outside was deafening, but Adriana could hear her heart beat like a drum.
From the extreme water pressure, “the walls squealed as if they were in pain,” Adriana recalls.
Suddenly, doors and windows snapped and a muddy river broke into the house with fury.
Quickly, her mother grabbed the cellphone flashlight and found her daughter almost dragged away by the current. She grabbed Adriana’s hand, clambering through mud and rubble, and carried her and her three-year-old son, Akeanno Joseph, on her shoulders to the living room.
It was impossible to escape as the surge of river water hurtled inside.
Adriana and her brother survived the rising floodwaters from Hurricane Maria by clinging to her mother’s shoulder for over 40 minutes, standing on a table in the living room.
Before turning into thick mud, the water in the house rose to 6 feet (1.8 meters).
A week after the storm, I visited their home. Adriana’s grandmother, Wilma Walsh, invited me in. The water mark was still visible.
Outside the house, furniture, clothes, appliances, toys and other belongings were piled in a crude mass of mud, drying ruined in the sun.
The midday finds me with a startled heart between the sound of work machines clearing the roads and men hammering their rooves back into place. Because of this work, dust covers everything – people wear masks to protect themselves from it.
After the severe impact of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean region, Hurricane Maria has added severe humanitarian consequences, taking at least 38 lives in its devastating path, and increasing the number of children and families who need immediate support.
UNICEF estimates that 39,000 children are in need of immediate assistance in the Eastern Caribbean islands, with 20,000 of them affected by Hurricane Maria in Dominica.
Across the region hundreds of schools have been impacted – they’ve been destroyed, they’re being used as shelters or they’ve lost their roofs. Children also need safe water, protection, psychosocial support and health and nutrition services.
Abigail explains to me that little Akeanno is still afraid to go to the river. “I am still in shock myself,” she admitted.
“The shipping containers were flying like paper in the breeze” was the metaphor that a woman used to describe Maria’s relentless 175mph (280 km) winds.
She said it to explain the two minivans and one car smashed beneath a huge metal container. Similar scenes were repeated along the waterfront.
Here, almost every structure has been ravaged. With most houses destroyed and a line of rubble along the road, Roseau is one of the several communities who has suffered the most, and remote communities remain cut off as collapsed bridges and damaged roads prevent access.
“We knew the storm was coming but I was not expecting this,” says Ingersol Labad. He’s standing on the second floor of the house. “I could touch the water from up here,” he says showing me the level the water reached.
Dominica’s once-colorful mountainsides are now pale; the few standing trees are branchless and the palm trees resemble telephone poles, leafless.
UNICEF’s emergency supplies are being rapidly distributed to the most affected communities –in coordination with national authorities and partners.
UNICEF is at work in Dominica to provide safe drinking water to affected families and provide psychosocial support to affected children and their families. We’re also working to restore education by refurbishing schools and the establishing child-friendly centers.
Mother nature has devastated Dominica, but couldn’t defeat the power of a mother’s shoulder to keep her children away from danger. We need more shoulders to assist Dominica to get back on its feet.
Manuel Moreno Gonzalez is a Communication Specialist with UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office.