Posted on October 3, 2017
The Story of Maria From Jean...
I want to thank you all for the outpouring of love and concern for Ron and I in our time of serious disaster.
As I am sure you all know now, we are safe.
I am here in Oregon with Tiana and Juliana and our wonderful families. Ron has stayed behind to secure our place with the invaluable help of David, who arrived in Dominica yesterday, and his family.
I am sure that at some point I may write the longer and more complete story of the events that took place the night of Hurricane Maria but for now for those of you who wish to get a sense of what goes on during a catastrophe of this nature I can share with you our experience.
During the day we were preparing for a category 2 or 3 hurricane. We have suffered from these types in the past, Ophelia, Ericka, Dean to name a few. We have had structural damage and intense cleanup efforts to continue to operate our business. We filled the cupboards with food, got gas for the generator, extra water, batteries, and battened down the hatches.
We set up ourselves in our downstairs office. It is surrounded by concrete walls on all sides, it's directly under our first cabin. We prepared a comfortable bed with plenty blankets, brought, food and water , flashlights and a radio and Mazie (our pup).
At around 7pm, we were talking with Tiana through Skype with the radio on. We reassured her that we had done our best to prepare and it was a comfort to be able to chat. As we were talking, a report came on the news that the expected category 3 hurricane had immediately turned into a FIVE and the computer promptly cut out.
We spent the next 2 hours listening to the (from what we understand) winds of 130 MPH whipping around us. It would come and go with frequency. and then........nothing. At about 9:40, yes, I kept an eye on my watch, it became calm, dead calm. You could the birds outside but nothing else. We weren't sure if the hurricane had past. We weren't sure what to expect. I took a nap. At 10:44 I was awoken to the sound of what can be described as what I would imagine the sound of a freight train running not far from our head. Our only guess was that we had experienced the eye of the storm. The rains started to come into the adjacent laundry room and the room started to flood. I was checking the clock...one hour, another hour and then another. I was hoping that if the time before the storm was 2 hours then the other side of the storm would be naturally be 2 hours. That was not to be. One o'clock past, 2 o'clock, 3 then 4 and five ( the five on my computer doesn't work).The rain was coming in through the porch floor boards and blew onto us. We were flat against the middle wall with the overhead solid beam for protection. We started to get wet. Our concrete room was covered with wallboard that began to get saturated. One by one the ceiling panels let loose and eventually all 8 panels came down in slow motion and we piled them to the side. The winds were beginning to subside by then. We waited as it became quiet outside. Ron cautiously peeked out the door. It was raining lightly. As we were miserable, cold and soaked, we decided to go out and see if we could find better quarters to get some relief. We took Mazie, food and water and ventured up to the library. Lo and behold, the roof was intact and only a bit of water on the floor one one side but dry on the other. Found our way to our Adirondack chairs and collapsed. After a few hours, we thought we expected the rains to stop a get a bit of a break. That was not to be. It was windy and rainy for the rest of the day. We had no idea what had happened to our place. We again slept in the chairs for another night. That was Tuesday.
Wednesday we woke up to a beautiful blue sky and the birds chirping. We ventured out to find 2 foot of mud the consistency of quicksand between the library and the dining room. We collected some dry clothes that Ron had wisely put in large garbage bags that were nice and dry. We put one our tall boots and grabbed a couple of shovels. Mad that mud is heavy! So far all we could see was that one ceiling panel on the dining room was missing. The kitchen roof was intact and only wet. Food and water in the fridge. No power of course. Ron fired up the generator and got lights to work as well as the fridge. The first cabin had lost its roof and the front wall. They had been blown onto the back path the leads behind all 4 cabins. There was no going any further down the path. As we took inventory, we found all 4 cabins had lost roofs some walls as well.The chicken/goat pen roof and doors were torn off and 4 goats and 24 chickens were freerangin' it. They chickens had left all the eggs in a pile in the lemon grass. Our greenhouse plastic was torn complete off and every plant had been sucked out by the roots except the 34 tarragon, go figure. Adirondack chairs from the cabin porches found below. All of the fruit trees blown over with carambola, grapefruit, guava, bread nut, oranges, lemons and coconuts on the ground. Ron's tool room has no roof and the tools scattered about. Tiana and David's home has a damaged overhang but the roof is still on tight. The classroom/gym has the roof but the 2 skylights are missing.
By this time, word got to us that our 1 mile long road to the main road was blocked by 7 landslides and a section of washed out road.
Ron had just got the ham radio and local radio to work and we were able to get some information about the rest of the island. The report was that the whole of the island was devastated. Our most frustrating concern was how can we let Tiana and Juliana and our family know that we are safe.The radio said the main road to Roseau, the capital, was blocked. There was no communication available.
Ron was able with much determination to find our fresh water spring water, clear out the basin, attach a garden hose (MacGyver at his finest) so that we and our neighbors can have plenty of drinking water.
After days of shoveling mud and drying mattresses, washing and hanging sheets and towels we were able to create a livable space in which we could tackle some of the more challenging of the tasks of clearing galvanize sheets, plywood, and downed trees.
On Sunday we got a surprise visit from David's brother Angus and 4 other of his family members come to check on us! It was no easy task for them to navigate their way through all debris, mud and fallen trees. He took pictures and videos of us in order to prove to Tiana of our safety. There were small pockets of cell service in town. He brought new that the main road was cleared.
By Monday, Ron was determined to make contact with Tiana and/or Juliana. He foraged his way our of the valley and down the road. He was able to talk briefly to Juliana to reassure her and ask if there would be a way for me to leave the island as he felt it was unsafe for me to stay. She managed to find information about an evacuation plan to take Americans out of Dominica from the northern airport and left a text to tell us of this. Unbeknownst to us, we returned to Canefield the next day to see if she had found anything. We took a precarious ride into town with our gas cans in order to resupply gas for the chainsaw and generator. Oh the sights we saw! Almost no house had a roof as far as the eye could see. Folks were washing themselves and their clothes under the roadside waterfalls. Folks were gathering drinking water in any containers that had for themselves and their neighbors. One thing we are grateful for are the numerous fresh water springs that are available in Dominica at all times .ALL of the power lines were down and draped across every turn in the road. We were perched on many edges of washed out roads, trees felled that were down in a way that we dodged them left and right. What a harrowing experience! When we reached the gas station, we found that the nation had secured a unlimited supply of gas but that the cell service was no longer available. Disheartened, we returned home with gas but no word. As we reached our road to River La Croix, Ron tried the cell phone, "I've got a bar" he yelled. Then headed up to the highest point he could climb and sure enough, Juliana had texted that I would have to be at the airport by 9 AM in order to be evacuated. By this time we had heard that Tiana had made arrangements for David to return to Dominica by way of St. Lucia and then ferry on Thursday.
That was a fitful sleep that night, ok really no sleep at all for either of us. I had packed a back pack. Early the next morning, we climbed our way out of the valley once more. I was so hesitant to leave Ron, probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do. We weren't at all sure I could find a ride to the airport. I thought if this works OK if not OK, too. We waited from five AM until 7AM until I thought that the possibility was hopeless. Then just as we were to give up here comes a bus up over the hill. I waved him down and asked about a ride to the airport....Sure thing!!!! There was another family already in the bus wanting to leave the island as well. And I thought the ride to town the other day was hazardous, it was almost a walk in the park compared to this. I had to close my eyes for many parts of this traumatic ride, dodging on coming buses, one lane roads/paths, people, trees, boards, sheets of galvanized, goats and chickens. There were detours, washed out bridges, roads blocked, at times I hardly recognized where I was. We were fortunate our driver had a copilot to help us get under cables, around boulders, and over streams. They were most skilled and we arrived safely.
I was never so happy to see that American flag stuck in the ground next to the arrival building. We were processed by the most considerate of US Marines. The men and women that greeted us helped with detailed instructions, answered questions, and offered a variety of K rations. As is usual with the military, it was hurry up and wait. After 2 hours we were instructed on how to board a military HELICOPTER! Suited up with, noise cancelling headphones and/or ear plugs, 7 including 2 children we boarded. They leave the back door open to allow the full scenic view to be experienced. As we headed to Martinique, just a half an hour away, we were able to the ravages of the island left by Maria. There seemed to be not a leaf left on any tree, our beautiful lush emerald paradise was but a striped brown lump of dirt surrounded by the blue Caribbean waters. Tears streamed down my face as I my heart broke for not having Ron by my side and to see the devastation of the homes of our neighbors.
We arrived in Martinique, and with the help of the wonderful people from the State Department, I found my way to a ticket to the nearest US city, that day, Miami. I was able to get a hold of Dan on FB messenger, who got Juliana, who got Tiana, Together with amazing team work managed within a short time to make arrangements to get me from Miami to Atlanta to Portland the next day. With gratitude for having secured passage, I was exhausted, I found my way to a grouping of comfortable couches planning to nap there until my flight in the morning. I opened my laptop, went to FB, and there awaits me a message from Juliana. They had booked a room for me at none other then the hotel in front of me as I was sitting on their couch. OK, I cried again. I looked at the signs taped to the front desk that read NO ROOMS ALL BOOKED. I went to the counter and they gave me my room key! I went up to the room drew a hot bath, soaked 9 days worth of mud, dirt and dust off my body and out of my hair. Flopped into bed and slept a sleep of the dead. This was THE best birthday present a mother could have asked for!
The next day, brought me too what I had been waiting for......the beautiful face and outstretched arms of Juliana and in spirit her sister Tiana at the end of my long journey.
I had a wonderful conversation with Tiana today to update her with all of the details of the wild Hurricane Maria and our home. We all here will meet her and the boys tomorrow for a reunion.
Rest assured, I talked to Ron this morning to find him safe with David and David's family. Hallelujah! Dan and Juliana secured a SAT phone for them to use from the valley and have been instructed to give updates daily. They also sent David with as much food as would fit in his bags. They will take it day by day. The future plans are uncertain as we are taking it one step at a time. At this time, Tiana is helping to get a group of helpers together for the cleanup efforts.
Well, if you're still with me after that long winded saga..........we ARE family !
I now realize that so many of you were sending the warm energy that helped Ron and I survive this life changing event in our lives.
We can't thank you enough. We have the best family on the planet! I am sending back to you all the love and appreciation I have from every fiber of my body. Thank you so much!