I had planned and promised to do a roundup this week of long-planned events to memorialize those who died or suffered other major losses due to Hurricane Maria, which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean in September 2017, especially in Dominica, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Most of those plans flew out of the window on the winds of Tropical Storm Fiona (now a hurricane). Fiona first hit Guadeloupe, then immersed Puerto Rico in floods and left an island-wide blackout and loss of drinkable water, before it smashed into the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos. Fiona is now heading toward Bermuda before it reaches points north.
My initial info-gathering was also hampered by an almost complete absence of mainstream media coverage of both current events in the Caribbean, as well as Maria commemorations. Why? Because mainstream “journalists” were singularly focused on the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Thankfully, now that she’s buried, we now see a bit more coverage.
At one point, I was holding back angry tears. Yes, I have tears for the thousands who died and those displaced by Maria, but my anger was more for the living in the Caribbean, who needed, and still need, our attention, support, and a swift international response. I hadn’t planned to write anything else about the Caribbean besides this weekly column, but instead, I had to.
RELATED: Hurricane Fiona’s catastrophic flooding across Puerto Rico continues: How you can help
Join me today in remembering.
Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.
When looking at social media reports on the tragic Caribbean weather events of 2017 and Maria’s massive destruction, rarely, if at all, do I hear anything about Dominica, which even journalists who should know better have “mis-reported” as the Dominican Republic.
I did find this UNICEF tweet this week.
The devastation was unavoidable, with conditions like this:
Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo filed this report five days after Dominica was hit.
The stats five days in were troubling—
Hurricane Maria has killed at least 33 people so far, with the bulk of those deaths happening on the tiny island of Dominica. At least 80 percent of the buildings there have been damaged and most communication lines cut.
—but would grow so much worse.
This Guardian report was deeply moving, starting with the title: “My journey back to Dominica after the hurricane: 'Some don’t have bodies to bury’”
The journalist had family on the island, adding a deeply personal layer to his reporting.
This year the Caribbean experienced its most destructive hurricane season in decades. While large countries dominated the headlines, the small island nation of Dominica suffered the worst devastation it has ever seen. Josh Toussaint-Strauss visits his family in the country and asks, with next year forecast to be worse, how Dominicans see their future
Five years later, on Sept.18, 2022, the prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, issued this statement marking the Maria anniversary.
He pointed to improvements since then.
Not all Dominicans agree with his assessment. A 2021 editorial in The Sun Dominica begs to differ. The story opens with an excerpt from a story by Dominican author Dorothy Leevy:
"Did the trees protest as they were mercilessly shorn of their limbs and leaves? Did the aged and sturdy trunks scream as your minion wind snapped or uprooted them?
Did you enjoy the wail of the mountains, as you caused huge sections to be gouged out, disembowelling them?...
…closed doors rumbled, rattled, shuddered, under the onslaught of your winds. You sadistically sucked in your breath, then expelled it with crushing force, similar to the ocean dragging water from the shore, then crashing on land, destroying everything in its path. Eardrums felt as though they would burst; the house seemed ready to be lifted in one minute, ready to be blown apart in the next. This one-sided battle seemed endless…”
From "Dear Maria" by Dorothy Leevy
The editorial itself is pretty scathing:
… this island is still suffering immensely from the massive psychological damage that the storm wrought on the inhabitants. It will take decades for the island to recover and anyone who says otherwise is either blind to reality or is attempting to fool you.
For example, the island's economy is still in tatters; sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing have not "recovered" and will not completely recover to pre-Maria levels for many, many years, probably decades.
The point is, if you accept that the level of damage that Maria inflicted on Dominica, one of the poorest islands in the Eastern Caribbean, was mindboggling, how could you explain its "recovery" within four years? Where did the money come from and how much did it cost?
Moving on to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), cultural preservationist Julio Encarnacion III’s website The Native Son produced this video, “We Were Forgotten - St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands,” just one month after Maria.
Remember reports like this?
The voice who spoke out for the USVI, hit by back-to-back storms, who broke through media silence during both (Irma and then Maria) was that of NBA basketball great Tim Duncan.
And then of course there was Maria’s total devastation of Puerto Rico. Many of you will remember watching the first video on national broadcasts, like this report from ABC:
Or perhaps this one, from AJ+:
PBS reported on conditions one week later.
Many of us watched videos that residents were posting on social media, like this one—where a family can’t leave because of high, raging floodwaters.
Very soon after, then-President Donald Trump was called out for his slow response to the disaster.
Meanwhile, some here at Daily Kos pitched in to raise both awareness and funds, forming an #SOSPuertoRico Community Group on Sep 27, 2017; we continue to follow events there, today and beyond.
Six months after Maria hit Puerto Rico, there were cries for help, highlighting the differential treatment received by Puerto Ricans, as noted in this feature from The Guardian: “We're American, too, why don't they help?'”
One year after Maria, Academy Award-winning Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno narrated this story for the Miami Herald, which noted that “the official death toll now stands at 2,975, making Maria one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.”
I don’t know if you know anyone who died during or as a result of Hurricane Maria. Many of the names of the lost, and their stories, are gathered here in this database. Take a short timeout and read a few.
Hundreds of families told us how their loved ones died after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. This database of stories is the most extensive record yet of who died and why.
Every year on the anniversary of Maria, there are stories reported about how the island’s colonial status has allowed the U.S. government to continue second-class treatment of its citizens. Every damn year we see proof of just that, whether it’s the homes that still have blue tarps, or the ongoing blackouts that occur even without storms due to LUMA Energy’s failures, or the power and control over the island’s finances vested in an unelected oversight board, dubbed “La Junta” by islanders.
So here we are. Five years later.
People Here on the mainland, people changed planned events marking five years post-Maria to efforts to once again raise funds and garner support, mid-Fiona.
In central Florida:
And in Chicago:
Some events merged the two disasters, like this one in New York City:
Others, like in Berkeley, focused on Maria one day, only to find themselves focused on Fiona the next.
There is so much more I want to say, because I’m still angry. But I’ve posted quite a bit here, and should stop here. Join me in the comments for additional information on what you can do to help, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup.
In closing: Remember the dead, and support the living.