Death toll rises as Hurricane Maria swamps Caribbean

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As Hurricane Maria throttled Puerto Rico just before dawn, other Caribbean islands awoke Wednesday to take stock of the effects of the one-two punch of two devastating hurricanes this month.

In Maria’s tear through the Caribbean, the hurricane has killed at least nine people. Sevens of the deaths were reported in Dominica and two in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe.

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned residents to stay indoors Wednesday even as hurricane-force and tropical storm winds subside because of the danger of flash floods. “This is a moving, living creature,” he said, explaining a tremendous amount of rain is expected to fall across the entire territory.

Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands were still in early recovery mode from Hurricane Irma when Maria walloped the islands.

While Irma spared Dominica, the southernmost of the Leeward Islands, Maria hit Monday night as a Category 5 storm.

The news from Dominica, which was virtually cut off from the rest of the world for more than a day, was not good.

Hartley Henry, a principal adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, finally spoke with the Dominican leader via satellite phone at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The prime minister, who had to be rescued after the roof blew off his house, said his family was fine but Dominica was not.

Skerritt reported seven confirmed fatalities, a tremendous loss of housing and public buildings, severe damage to the main hospital with patient care compromised, hurricane shelters without roofs, and a desperate need for relief supplies and materials to provide shelter.

Photos on the page of the Dominica Relief Fund showed roofless homes and tin roofs in the streets.

“Little contact has been made with the outer communities but persons who walked 10 and 15 miles towards the city of Roseau from various outer districts report total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops,” Henry wrote in an email communique.

“The country is in a daze — no electricity, no running water, as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities, and definitely no land-line or cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite awhile,” wrote Henry.

The prime minister told him he fears the death toll will rise as rescue workers make their way into rural communities, but his focus now is on getting help for Dominica’s battered residents.

“The country needs the support and continued help and prayers of all,” said Henry.

Among the most critical needs are tarpaulins and other roofing materials, bedding supplies for hundreds stranded in or outside of what is left of their homes, food, water purification drops and helicopter service to take supplies to outer districts in the mountainous country.

Canefield Airport, located about three miles north of Roseau, can now accommodate helicopter landings and the tarmac at Douglas-Charles Airport, which is on the northeast coast, wasn’t too badly damaged so it should be open in a few days for larger relief planes, according to Henry.

Waters were calm enough Wednesday around the main Roseau port to allow vessels bringing relief supplies, he said.

Other Leeward Islands also were in recovery mode.

In St. Kitts and Nevis, Bradshaw International Airport reopened Wednesday at 11 a.m. with an American Airlines flight from Miami scheduled to arrive at 3:35 p.m. and essential services were operating. Rapid assessment teams were deployed to determine the extent of damages, and residents were advised to remain indoors even though storm watches and warning were discontinued. Maria’s eye passed 90 miles west southwest of the two islands.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Brantley was clearly getting fed up with a month that has seen three hurricanes — Irma, José and Maria — swirl in the Caribbean. In a tweet that included other hurricane-fatigued islands, he said, “We can take no more.”

Guadeloupe, where one person died after being hit by a falling tree and another suffered a fatal tumble into the ocean, was still experiencing dangerous sea conditions Wednesday with strong swells of up to 6.5 feet on the leeward coast from Vieux Fort to Deshaies.

Recovery efforts also continued on St. Martin, which sustained heavy damage from Irma but wasn’t in Maria’s path. U.S. Marines and soldiers were making water through a portable purification system for both the Dutch and French side of the island, and had distributed about 4,500 gallons before halting for Hurricane Maria.

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