In a true account, Yllen Ambrose relives the dreadful night Maria devastated the island of Dominica in language of prose.
By: Yllen Ambrose
The wind is still on the outside of the window. We knew that staying home was never an option as after tropical storm Erika there was a massive landslide just behind the House.
“Me self in my house I am staying.” mother sits scrolling through Amazon for her necessities, simultaneously chatting with friends from church.
“We cannot stay here. Category 2 they say Wii.” My father chides his stubborn wife, still she maintained her headstrong stance of staying put.
“What’s the point of building a house if you can’t be safe in it.” she retorts angrier at the house than at anyone, really. We taped the window glasses in warning of hurricane Irma and thankfully it didn’t give us any attention.
The conversation was distant to me as usual. I sit engrossed in the modern amenities that make my life so convenient and simple. Eyes glued to the screen watching the latest episode of one of my favorite shows while thinking of my outfit for my birthday just two days ahead.
“Boy that coming straight for us wii!” My dad’s voice is full of excitement as he looks and interprets the satellite imagery of the storm.
“Yeah tomorrow is a holiday.” He continues and not long after the Prime Minister makes the announcement. Of course that makes no difference for me, as I work for a private company, I roll my eyes in annoyance as again I had to work on a public holiday.
Soon I retire to bed, the night is cool as I drift into an unrestrained peaceful slumber. My alarm sounds at the usual 5:30, I turn groggily, say my prayers and look out the window out of habit. A gentle breeze rustle the trees with a light whistle. A valley separated our house from the mountain looming across in the open air, standing carpeted with vibrant greenery and majestic shrubbery. The sun just beginning to resume control of the sky, and although masked by the grey masses in the sky it’s power isn’t dampened. I smile at the sight as it usually lifts my spirit for the day. Soon I am ready for work, so I knock on my parent’s door and my father soon emerges with the usual question.
“Ready?” I nod, and soon we were off?
I try to accomplish my task for the day, but I am mostly swamped in thoughts and the music accompanying them. I vaguely remember my last hurricane. My only recent violent climatic memory is that of tropical storm Erika. I remove my ear buds as I see co workers standing around me. Its 20 minutes shy of 10 am and they are all talking indistinctly.
“Them people talking about it hitting south of Kalinago Territory and a little bit North might get. They not seeing our size talking about where it gonna hit.” one said sucking their teeth in annoyance. My phone vibrates and we were informed that day’s work was called off. Still not yet very fearful by the impending storm, I stoically pack my things saying goodbye to the remaining staff, making a quick call to my father.
“So what’s the update?” I ask entering the vehicle as we begin our drive through the fairly vacant streets.
“Well the storm supposed to start at 8 tonight.” He says. I can see the worry in his eyes as he drives seemingly without a destination in mind.
“Where mammy?” I ask noticing her absence “She went to work.” be says. She was on call that day, and being a nurse she concluded that her presence would be more useful at work than with us.
“Where we going for the night?” I ask him.
His brows wrinkle, clueless, he admits he had no idea.
“How bout uncle?” I ask he agrees and we head there. It was still very early in the day and the weather was fine save a few grey clouds pending.
“Well we can make a turn Estate still.” he says referring to my cousin’s house and his mother’s which is nearby.
We drive through New Town and through the Botanical gardens; I always admired how it was always well taken care of: the grass was always well kept, and the tree gleaned health. Soon we were heading over the Bath Estate bridge, and my eyes fixated on a large old bridge that is next to it which was previously used for commute. It is now old and weak and the frame was begging to be discarded. Although in a pretty shabby state, I remember being dared to walk across it, then running back fearful of the daunting river below; the river was narrower now, but it never allows the slightest omission of its power during rainfall to the subordinates squatting its banks.
I turn to see my sister sleeping comfortably in the back. We packed a light sleep over bag with crackers and 1 bottle of water
“That alone you bring?” I ask. He shrugged implying that he had an idea of what was coming. I conceded remembering that he lived through hurricane David under worse circumstances. The houses were mainly concrete in these parts and a large tree swayed, carried by the wind, its leaves touch the minibus as we drove by.
“Awa wii, them people know it have hurricane and they have that big tree over their house? So. afterall man.” he said shaking his head in disapproval. “It is amazing that they haven’t taken proper precautions”. I thought, noticing the tree and it’s proximity to a few houses.
We soon arrive and I entered the concrete framed house the roof also made of the material greeting my cousin, her daughter and her mother.
Not long after my arrival I fell asleep lightly, and the by the time I awoke it was afternoon. A light breeze was blowing on the outside and the and the sky held a pseudo 6:30 appearance.
“What’s the time?” I requested.
“2:30.” I’m informed by my cousin. I notice the absence of my father and ask where he’d gone.
“He go and help mama.” My sister and my aunt say together. I stretch and head for the veranda. Everything is relatively calm and peaceful so far I think.
At 3:30 my phone rings and I informed my uncle that we were not going to come back since the wind had already began picking up.
Another hour elapses and my father is yet to return which is strange because my grandmother’s house is just across the street.
I flick through my phone respond to a few messages then resume my show.
The gentle breeze was beginning to pick up and I’m slightly worried about my father and grandmother who has yet to appear. Just as the thought pops into my mind they enter.
“Boy somebody jus reverse in my parking spot wii.” My father retorts as he enters the House.
“Borjay. How allu take long so?” my Aunt scolds.
“Mama nuh that want to bring the whole house.” my father sighs exasperated.
He plops onto the chair next to me, and encourages me to put down my device. I do for a whopping 15 minutes then I’m back at it.
My grandmother soon turns the radio up and the reporters were talking about the hurricane. Many people called claiming that they were all set for the storm and the occasional jokes were made. I look out the window and the neighbors are all inside. The wind is beginning to be blown in gusts. Everyone stays near the window as a little could still be seen.
My phone beeps with the battery warning and I am forced to put it to charge, however immediately as I plug it in the power shuts off throughout the entire house. I am disappointed but I decide to join everyone by the window.
I would previously be excited for this type of weather: the wind, the rain, the cooling of the atmosphere, the trees swaying back and forth at an inconsistent pace, but Erika changed my perspective on storms.
I worry for my already economically struggling island and although a little excitement may still be felt by my 10 year old cousin, I feel a difference in the game of hurricane since the Irma and Jose’s rapid transformation.
The met office was now on the radio talking but we were busy with the wind and rain on the outside.
“Hush!” my father exclaims it is now six o’clock. The wind speed has increased yet again.
The silence that followed my father exclamation was interrupted with the least expected and utterly terrifying. Two words were spoken and in the most casual way made prior predictions now verbally obsolete.
Category 5 are the only two words I hear. Then repeated.
The coordinates of my country repeated.
The wind speed 160 miles per hour and again confirmed as if not already so- that the words needed to be said again to affirm to the survivors of hurricane David that yes indeed it was happening, again. My father scratches his head and whistles.
Imagine the surprise that a category 2 storm evolved to a category 5 within 90 minutes.
The room was silent for a moment as we all tried to figure what we really up against. All assumptions would prove futile in the coming hours.
We sat in silence the only noise was the slight whistle that was on the outside of the house.
“Keep away from the windows!” my father yells. But it proves difficult with nothing to do inside of the house all the action is now on the outside. We listen to the radio and I try to charge on my power pack. I use the remaining bars to listen to music excluding myself from the world around me. I shut it off as everyone huddles closer and closer inside.
“Papa the Windows will burse wii!” my cousin exclaims as we hear the secured windows rattling in its frame.
“You have tape?!” I scream over the howling of the wind. She searches through her things and comes up with a roll of tape. It will have to do I think. The wind screeches and the rain pelt the window. We all help to tape the glasses of the windows. We were soon greeted with a new problem. The rain was pounding with such intensity that there water was entering the house through the window frame and underneath the doors practically all cracks and crevices provided entry. We all attempt to collect the water in a mop pail pouring its contents into the toilet. It began to seem pointless.
The windows seemed fairly secured by the tape, so we proceeded to use a long distant flashlight to look in the outside. We saw live as the luscious tree we saw just in the afternoon fell into the roof of one of the neighbors. After which the wind, which seemed to have replaced air with a physical finger-like form groped the branch sending some distance into the darkness soon after taking part of the roof with it.
The radio is bombarded with phone calls we listen in terror as we begin to lose all cell phone service soon no one was able to make out going call.
“Help- send-window. Bathroom!” the caller attempted to say.
“Caller you are breaking up.” the host says.
“Our roof gone.” he manages to say. “We stick in the bathroom the door just burst. We have no light and I cannot find my brother.” he says. The fear laced each word as he tries to speak.
“Please send help stock farm. I hear the screams and I can’t go outside.” many more calls come in like this as we continue to see the mass destruction unfold before the narrow beam of a cheap flashlight.
I try to maintain composure as I see the neighbor’s window uprooted from the frame- glass and all removed, it lands on the steps with a thud and within seconds it is carried into the darkness. Palm tree leaves in a single direction as the wind meanders its way through the buildings selecting which structure it would devour next. A river is formed on the side of the house and we are mortified as the hurricane takes its course.
“We are hearing of many roofs being taken. Please do not venture out of your house please stay put. I repeat please do not venture to the outside. This is something unlike any other.” The host says as he tries to maintain his composure and a steady voice, although to listeners panic was beginning to leak in his voice.
“Looks like our door just went.” the co-host says with a slight chuckled trying and failing to lighted the mood. It was the last station on now and with no way of contacting friends or family, the radio is now the only thing tethering our minds and hearts to the outside world.
All ties now severed from the outside, the time is 11:35 p.m. The static on the radio is speaking of the fate of many as we continue to gather water and just pray that the terror soon comes to an end.
We again look out to the darkness, and although we know the danger of looking through it, but becomes the only thing to do besides mopping water and praying that the wind does not come through. Bright lightning illuminate the houses and we see the neighbors through their dimly lit windows attempt the same task. Some in shock as the wind grades through their well constructed roofs removing rafters, galvanize and everything in between, some attempt to flee to their neighbor’s houses despite better knowledge, which the wind also seemed to have taken. Had it not been the concrete roof of the house we were in, a shared fate between those scampering to the outside, and the sitting ducks within the four walls of the room we sat flooding with water would be assured.
What of those with wooden houses? What of those with no homes? What of those near rivers and landslide prone areas? My mind think to the river that has formed on the side of the house from nothing but the provisions of the clouds that had gathered within the past hours.
The wind unrelenting and the rain followed its leader as they tormented the occupants of this small island.
“They say is 8 to 2 so jus now it will finish.” my aunt says more like a prayer than a statement. I think of my mother and I am fearful of her fate as recollection of the recent events replay in my mind. Then to my friends and I say a silent pray that Everyone would be okay.
Everyone is in disbelief when we realize that fifteen minutes has passed. Time seemed at a standstill and although very overwhelmed by the storm looming just above, slumber soon overtakes me as I sit. When I wake only an hour and a half has elapsed.
“You cya be serious.” I say when I realize that it was still night. I pray for morning to come but this was the longest night for not just me but many of Dominica’s inhabitants.
Everyone is sitting, we all take turns mopping the water.
It is somewhat silent on the outside in comparison to what it was. We breathe a little better. The wind is howling on the outside. But with no radio or internet it’s difficult to say what’s happening now.
“The eye is over us.” My father says quietly.
We open my cousin’s bedroom window looking across the street awestruck by the little we can see with the now dim beam of the long range flashlight, aided by the sudden bursts of light bathing the ravaged land.
We light the first house. The roof is gone.
The second is the same. The third is partially there. The fourth house is practically missing. A garage has been ripped off one of the houses and the car has been left to the elements. People are also lighting their flashlights as they become cognizant of the nights events that has yet to be complete.
“My GOD.” We all say in utter disbelief of the sight before us.
“Okay time to go close the window!” my father calls from the living room, the wind begin to pick-up again.
“I can barely hear you.” I say to him. He looks at me in confusion. Soon I wasn’t the only one having a hard time hearing.
“Allu feeling that!?” I inquire everyone nods I see their faces in the low light of the single candle that has been burning since the lights had been cut off.
“I can’t hear you!” I exclaim. I’m mystified by the pressure that my eardrums are feeling just as the wind lets out a deep groan then a howl, then a deafening whistle.
She speaks, Maria speaks! I think as she continues her low howls sidling through the faintly lit room. She screams a few octaves lower than a tire’s screech.
The door bust open upon the pressure that was threatening to destroy all hearing in the room and cool breeze and water rushed into the house.
We hurry over, and door seemed to have increased in size as it no longer fit snugly into it’s frame. We managed to close it all the same.
“No impossible that is a storm!” my aunt says and everyone agrees. The Wind seemed to be requesting an interpreter as she spoke deep growls and the house shook.
“Concrete house shaking Wii. Where I be there nuh!”my cousin says. Our vehicle is parked outside and we are almost certain that a branch has fallen onto it. The scraping of galvanize being shredded like scissors to paper fill our ears, branches snapping, leaves littered the veranda and the walls of the house. The constant battery of the storm to the windows seemed not to be letting up, as Maria continued to call to us from the outside begging for an entrance.
Let! Me! In! She bellows. Our ears continues to be bombarded with the pressure of her screams as it seems that the worst of the storm was just beginning. We block our ears as we try to understand the pressure that was dropping around us. We need to open a window. We need to open a window let this pressure out I think. But this was no ordinary wind. This was no ordinary storm. This was no ordinary night.
We continue to pray for morning to come.
We prayed that if not the wind, then the rain would come to end. But the terror that we felt would be nothing in comparison to that of others.
I somehow manage to fall asleep and wake as if scheduled an hour later. I’m in disbelief as the storm is still howling on the outside. It’s now 4:30. The weather outside is somewhat calmer although still very windy. I am content with the semi peace. We have given up mopping and instead resolve to sleeping.
No alarm clock is necessary in the morning, every one up at the first gleam of natural light oozing through the battered windows. A welcomed sight as we sit up. My sister still remains asleep as I rush to the window somewhat aware of what I’m about to see on the other side of our shield of last night. The window is difficult to open but I manage to open it.
“My God!” i say just above a whisper
I wasn’t prepared for the sight before me.
“Come, come now!” I try to wake my sister she shrugs me off.
“Come and see outside Chile!” I tell her.
“I see it last night. What nuh!” she responds annoyed.
“No. No we really didn’t.” I say.
We force the door open and we stand mixed emotions at the sight before us. We meet the eyes of fellow distraught individuals shocked and in utmost disbelief at the catastrophe that us now the reality of the land that we lived.