Dominica Strong: Hurricane Maria

This past week has been insane. My friends, classmates, and I survived a Category 5 hurricane. Here is my reflection and timeline of events.

Monday, September 18, 2017:

We had today off from school since we had a hurricane warning. We were told that Hurricane Maria was only going to be a Category 1 but we would definitely be affected because Maria was going straight through Dominica. I was already somewhat prepared since we had prepared for Irma a few weeks prior. I had food, drinking water, and some regular water for brushing my teeth and for the toilet. I woke up late to catch up on sleep from studying so late previously and then studied for a bit. Mediasite lectures were released from the previous semester so that we could still keep up with our studies (yup, medical school doesn’t stop for anything…even natural disasters). I watched some lectures and then had Chinese leftovers for dinner. I figured I might as well eat all my food in the fridge in case I lost power later. I texted my brother just a heads up about the hurricane and that it’s nothing to worry about because it’s only a Category 1 and that I might lose service but I was prepared and I would likely be fine.

I then talked to my best friend for a few hours and during that time I noticed on Facebook and received emails from our Dean that Maria had increased to a Category 3. I wasn’t too worried still since that seemed manageable. But then she increased to a 5 in a span of a few hours! That’s when I was starting to slightly worry. I was by myself in my apartment and while on the phone with my bestie, my kitchen started to slightly flood since water was going through my front door. I was able to talk to my best friend until I lost cell service around 9pm.

I tried to go back to study but then realized the storm was getting more intense. I don’t remember what time it was but there was a moment when it got really scary that I just jumped right under my desk. I took cover in case my windows broke or something would fall. I then hid all my electronics so that they wouldn’t get wet from the flooding and wouldn’t get smashed. I still had electricity from the backup generator but then I decided to unplug my lamp and turn off my light because it’s a big light in my room and I saw my roof shake and was nervous my light would fall and it would cause sparks or something. I had to use my phone and pen light as my flashlight.

I stayed under my desk for a few hours but it started getting really uncomfortable. My floor started to flood more too. I’m on the top floor so rain would fall through my roof. My roof is made out of wood and then a metal sheet on top. I told myself to last until 2am since that’s when the hurricane was supposed to pass us. But it seemed like as every 30 minutes passed, it was getting scarier and scarier. I could see everything shake. I could hear my front door bang back and forth and same with my metal door in my room that leads to my balcony. I just heard things outside flailing and banging on walls. I heard metal sheets just flying everywhere. I was sooo scared my roof would collapse.

At around 11pm which was when the storm got the worst, I decided to move into my closet. I sat there with one door open and the other closed so I could keep an eye out in case my window broke. I have never been this terrified in my life. I kept praying and praying that my apartment would hold up and that I would continue to stay safe. I was also exhausted and so sleepy but had to force myself to stay awake so I could react fast in case something happened. I started even thinking about what I would do if my roof collapsed or I got injured. I tried to see what I could use to tie off blood supply if I got injured or if I would risk leaving my apartment to someone else’s. I realized in the end if I were to get injured or my roof caved, I would just have to sit in my apartment and wait it out because the winds were too strong outside, I wouldn’t even be able to open my door or if I did, it would just blow right open and probably knock me out, and I don’t know exactly which of my neighbors were home. All I could do in those hours was pray.

At around 4am I was so tired that I risked it and went onto my bed. I tried to lay where I was as far away from my window as possible. The storm seemed to die down a bit so I figured I’d just lay in my bed and it felt so much more comfortable since I was able to stretch my legs. I know I soon fell asleep shortly after.

Tuesday, September 19th:

I was knocked out like a baby and I only woke up because my friend and his girlfriend were banging on my door. They came to check up on me to make sure everything was okay and asked if I had walked outside. I hadn’t since I was sleeping and also I thought the storm was still going on! It was still kind of windy in the earlier hours of the morning. I did not want to leave my place. But I agreed I would meet up with them to go to a 3pm meeting. I’m glad they stopped by though because I was not aware of the 3pm meeting. It was never confirmed by emails but for Irma the administration told us that there would be a 3pm meeting the next day if we were to lose power and service. It looked like all the students were still going to meet.

I went back to sleep since I was so tired and then I get another knock on my door. Two other friends came to visit to check in. Their place sustained minimal damage and just minor flooding. We agreed to meet at their place before heading to the meeting together. It’s so strange to have to talk about this and find an actual location to meet since we no longer can just text it to each other. I then got ready and then decided to hang out with my first friend that stopped by and his gf since she lives in the complex across from me before heading to the meeting.

When I walked to the meeting, I could see the destruction and aftermath of Maria. Dominica is known as the nature island so it was so sad to see all the green just gone. Wiped out. It was all brown. You could see the ocean so clearly because all the trees were gone. You can see these mountains across from us (we always called them boobies) and it was all brown as well. Everywhere around us was brown and the beautiful green was gone. Powerlines were all over the streets. It was so sad and scary to see.

During the meeting it was chaos. It was so packed and it was so hard to hear since the microphones weren’t working. Everyone had questions and people wouldn’t be quiet. But essentially we all had to check in by writing our names and numbers and that the administration didn’t have much info. We were to stay with our hurricane buddies and to make sure we had enough food and water. Campus would be open to house people who couldn’t stay in their apartments. The administration had made contact with the U.S. and that there were two satellite phones but they wouldn’t tell us what that communication was. It was just that the U.S. is aware of our situation. We also had a 6pm curfew.

I decided to stay with my friend and his gf for the night since she had an extra bed and her place only sustained some flooding. I packed some things and headed to her place. We also stopped by a local restaurant to grab some alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. It was going to be a long night. We talked and then ended up passing out pretty early since we were all so exhausted from the previous night.

Wednesday, September 20th:

We once again go to the 3pm meeting for any updates. There once again isn’t much. We need to check in again on computers this time. It’s chaos and so unorganized. But I feel bad because the student volunteers are doing the best that they can and the rest of us are trying to be patient but people get annoyed and agitated given the circumstances.

I decide to stay with my best friend on the island for this evening. We eat samosas for dinner and other Indian foods! So yummy. We hang out at his neighbors house when it’s pass curfew and I watch as they play Settlers of Catan. We then play a game of Munchkins which got intense and was actually pretty fun! It was nice to hang out with a group of people and it helped pass the time. When my best friend and I went back to his place we ended up talking until about 7am! We caught up on everything since we were busy with school before, talked about life, our past relationships, current interests or annoyances, and then played a game of “Fuck, Marry, Kill.” It was hilarious and we got to know each other on a different level. Also, we tried to make it hard on the other person by choosing really difficult individuals to pick from. It was probably one of my most enjoyed nights and I got to spend it with one of my best friends!

Thursday, September 21st:

My best friend and I are awaken from our two other friends. I decide to go back to my place to get some sleep since I didn’t have much of it. I slept until the meeting again.

Apparently there was a mistake and administration didn’t get me checking into the computer so I had to go back to campus after the meeting to make sure it was all figured out. I come to learn later from my friend from home that my name wasn’t released and she was freaking out and didn’t understand why I didn’t check in yet. But by evening she had seen my name on that new released list. And it turns out the school did end up calling my parents which was good!

We also learn that evacuation will finally start! The order is high priority which includes injured and families, single females, single males, and then couples/companions. We’re sooo happy to hear this! Also, thank goodness for being a single female. Although I thought it was still strange they did this because I believe that once all the injured and families leave, all of us med students are on the same level in terms of health and status so I would have been okay with it by last name or some other order. Just so relieved to know we get to finally go home!

We also have a 4pm curfew and we all had to go home to pack to be ready for tomorrow’s beginning evacuation. We were to meet on campus by 8am. We were allowed one personal item up to 10lbs and then a suitcase up to 40lbs. I went home right away to go pack. It was so hard to leave so many things behind but most items can be replaced. I ended up being able to pack most of my clothes and then brought all my items that had a personal meaning to, like if friends gifted it to me. Out of my medical equipment I only brought my stethoscope and otoscope and ophthalmoscope since those were the most expensive and difficult to find (well my stethoscope was also engraved). And I’m obsessed with shoes but I was only able to bring 1 pair of running shoes and then I brought my saltwaters with me.

I stopped by to say bye to my landlady and her son since tomorrow we would possibly be evacuating. I went to see her and she’s been sick this past semester. It was so sad to see her and say bye. I started crying and I couldn’t help it. She’s been like a grandma to me and so kind. I was sad because we were basically just abandoning all the locals here. I’ve come to get close to some of these people and I am not sure when I’ll see them again or if they will even be okay. She was stressed and kept asking if we were all leaving tomorrow and you could see she was so concerned about what would happen once we all left. She would have to rebuild everything and be on her own. There also would be no students in her apartment to be added safety from the looting. It was all just so sad and heart breaking to not be able to do anything about it. We are fortunate in that we can leave and return home but this is so many people’s homes and are left to deal with the aftermath. They opened their homes to us and treated us with kindness and love and here we are just abandoning them. I think this was a major tipping point for me emotionally because we had already gone through so much and then to just have the attachment to these people made it so much more difficult to be in this situation. She wished my neighbor and I best wishes and that she would continue to pray for us. I was happy I at least got to see her and thank her for everything.

I figured I could sleep in my own apartment tonight so I could have my comfy bed but everyone was so concerned about me staying by myself because looting might start happening so I was convinced to not stay by myself. I ended up staying with my neighbor downstairs. It was fun bonding with him and his two other friends. They are upper semester students and worked before starting school again so we talked about what we did and what made us decide to do medicine. We also talked about the questions that we got during our Ross interviews. We had instant noodles/pho for dinner which was surprisingly delicious.

We tried to go to sleep but apparently there were crabs trying to get into the apartment and it was hilarious hearing and watching the guys try to get rid of the crabs. Apparently one was really big and smart and tried to climb the screen door. I was so exhausted I was still able to sleep through most of it.

Friday, September 22nd:

At about 4am we hear helicopters fly around. It obviously wakes us all up and a lot of people in my complex we all walk outside to check it out. It lands in Jenner Field and we walk to take a look. It’s the U.K. military. It lands and then after 10 minutes or so it flies away. It was pretty exciting.

When we wake up we start getting ready to head to campus and we also realize water is working!!! This is so exciting! We all decide to take showers and it felt AMAZING. I had only showered once more before and it was just using water from water bottles. I had been using baby wipes before. And to wash my hair felt sooo nice. The things we take for granted. That also means toilet is working!

I head to campus for the 8am meeting. We learn that high priority will be evacuating today and that there were already some individuals evacuated which we all assume was from the helicopter earlier today. It was so boring just hanging and waiting around on campus. Eventually they start handing out tickets for individuals. For girls it’s by last name and then I finally get to go and I’m number 582.

The U.S. military also arrived and there were helicopters that were available for students to take if they wanted to be evacuated that route but they were only allowed one personal item and couldn’t bring a suitcase. It was kind of cool to see them there though.

During a meeting later on in the day they tell us a cruise ship will be taking numbers up until ~560 and I was kind of sad because I am only 20 away! The cruise ship would be arriving between 8pm-11pm. Once I heard that, I knew there was no way that cruise ship would be leaving tonight. I was then informed I would be going out on a ferry on Saturday. Once it was about 10pm they made another announcement and said that due to it being so late it was not safe and that the cruise ship would be leaving on Saturday.

There was a representative from the state department and he basically told us the evacuation plans which was that on Saturday the two ferries would go out first (I was part of this group) and then the cruise ship would go out (thank goodness I’m no longer part of that cruise). He also mentioned how we would be going by boat to St. Lucia and then flying to Miami and then going from Miami to home. Ross would be paying for all this. The U.S. military helicopter option would cost us and that it was not part of Ross so we would be on our own as individuals. It would also cost us up to about $4000 if we were to go that route.

We had to stay on campus and it was the WORST. I hated being on campus since it was so uncomfortable, packed, and I rather sleep in an apartment. This was something that also broke me down a little because it was so uncomfortable being there. I ended up trying to sleep outside in the grass which was comfortable until I returned the blanket my friend let me borrow. I felt bad after awhile. I went back into the classroom to sleep and I basically couldn’t sleep after that.

Saturday, September 23rd:

I’M IN THE FIRST GROUP TO BE EVACUATED!! However, it takes forever and we don’t actually start leaving until about 10am to the docks. I say my goodbyes to my friends. I’m so thankful I’m part of the first ferry to go out. We drive through Portsmouth and it’s so sad to see the devastation Maria has caused.

We arrive at the docks and we wait there and don’t actually leave until 2:30pm. We board a boat. It’s not a ferry like they say it would be but a 50 person boat that is generally used for diving. I knew it was going to be a rough boat ride. Luckily the girls I was with had Dramamine (seriously a lifesaver). It was crazy and sad to see how brown the island was. You can see the island from the ocean and all you see is just brown. It used to be such a beautiful luscious green. However, I did notice some parts of the island like around Scott’s Head still had some green! We actually were able to finally get cell service too! We took Snaps and said our goodbyes to the island as we continued onto our journey.

With service I was able to call my parents and my best friend from home. I texted everyone back and made a quick Facebook status update. There’s something about just talking to your loved ones that makes all the difference. I also contacted all my friends’ parents and friends for them to let them know their status and that they were fine. It was crazy to read all the comments on the Ross Facebook and to read all my friends comments too. People are so worried and it sucked we couldn’t tell them sooner we were okay.

The boat ride ended up being 8 hours and we landed in St. Lucia at around 10:30pm. It was so rough and water was splashing everywhere during the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and there were times we thought we were going to die. Doesn’t help that I can’t swim either! But we made it to St. Lucia and it felt so good. Customs was easy and then we were shuttled to the hotel. It was such a nice hotel! We made it in time for dinner and it was such a great meal. I ate more in that one sitting than I did probably the entire week. The beds were so comfy and same with the pillow. It also felt nice to take a hot shower and I literally stood there for a few minutes just relaxing. The only thing I was sad about was that I couldn’t shave and our luggage didn’t make it to us yet so I had to wash some of my clothes by hand so I could have something to wear the next day just in case.

Sunday, September 24th:

We are told we would start leaving to the airport to head to Miami around 1pm. It’s a 2 hour ride to the airport. We get to the airport and wait around for what seems forever. We finally get to board our charter plane and we head to Miami at around 6:30pm. We land around 12am and we all start cheering because we are finally back in the U.S.! It feels so good. When we exit the plane everyone there was saying “Welcome Back,” and it just makes you so happy. It feels surreal too. Ross has a sign that says welcome back and everyone is so friendly and welcoming. We check in and then get shuttled to our hotel (which is also nice). We’re told we can grab food in the hotel and then proceed to fill out paperwork so they can book our flights. I shower and then afterwards, I get a notification that they booked my flight for 5:45am on Monday! So basically I have no time to sleep and essentially after my shower I just pack and get ready to leave. I say goodbye to all my friends that were there and then head off to the airport.

Monday, September 25th:

I’M FINALLY HOME!! I had a layover in Dallas but it was quick and then landed in Northern CA! When I saw my mom I started crying because she was crying and it was so overwhelming to be back home, home.

Although I was home, I was still worried for all my close guy friends. I learned that they are still on the island and then I later learn that they would be the second to last boat to arrive to St. Lucia. I finally put my stalking skills to good use by looking to see who was already off the island in St. Lucia since they would have the most recent and up to date info about the island and comparing it to the Ross Facebook and people’s comments.

The moment I knew they were en route though, I felt so much more at ease.

Overall Reflection:

This has been an overall crazy experience. I think the aftermath of the hurricane is much worse when you have no contact with the outside world. I also don’t know why people don’t think global warming isn’t real when there were like 5 hurricanes in a span of a month and all but 1 was very devastating.

I’m so thankful for everything throughout this process. I’m thankful that my apartment sustained during the storm and I was safe and unharmed. I’m so happy all my friends and majority of classmates were also safe and unharmed. I’m thankful for all the students who stepped up and volunteered and started organizing. So many things was possible because it was student-led from handing out food, checking people in, and the EMS team taking care of injured individuals. Times like these is what brings us as a community together.

I’m also thankful for Ross doing as much as they can and as quickly as possible given the circumstances. Although, at the time when I was on the island I was very frustrated but in retrospect, they did the best they could and we couldn’t be more thankful. I’m also thankful for the U.S. military for being present and for the private security Ross hired.

Although we were able to make it out and return home, Dominica was people’s actual homes and they are left to rebuild it. I wish I could do more for them but at this time all I can do is help contribute financially. It was my home for 9 months and I adjusted to it and I started to enjoy it. I enjoyed its beauty over break and formed friendships with the locals. I never got to say bye to them and make sure they are okay. I hope that I get to see them someday. But I’m sending all the well wishes I can and just have them in my thoughts. I hope that their country will rebuild much faster and that they all get the supplies that they need. These are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They opened their country to us with kindness, love, and always had us in their thoughts. Even throughout all this craziness this past week, they always had us in their thoughts and checked up on us even though they were going through their own recovery.

Please take a look at my other posts for where you can help and donate!

 

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