By Stephen Spark
Dominica | Saturday 23 September 2017: 12:12 BST
Severe damage and 15 deaths have been reported from Dominica after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria. Because of restricted communications, people concerned about their relatives should text rather than try to telephone.Most of Dominica’s 72,000-strong population have been directly affected by the hurricane, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Large numbers of houses have lost their roofs, Roseau has been flooded and Canefield Airport put out of use. Almost every tree has been blown down, according to eyewitness reports.There is great concern about healthcare on the devastated island. According to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, broadcasting from Antigua on Thursday, Princess Margaret Hospital in Roseau has been severely damaged. The intensive care unit has been destroyed – patients have been moved to Martinique and dialysis machines are out of order. “It’s worse than in a war zone,” Skerrit said.Aerial surveys show that buildings damaged include Dominica State College and Roseau Library. Many roads and bridges are underwater or blocked by debris.Skerrit said that the country will need all the help it can get. “It will take us a very long time to bounce back,” he said. “We have never seen such destruction.”An appeal has gone out for donations of baby supplies, water, tarpaulins, timber, torches, batteries, generators, mattresses, cots, energy biscuits, and water purification kits and tablets. People are urged to contribute to the Dominica High Commission relief fund, via dominicarelief.org.In a remarkable show of Caribbean unity and generosity, the tiny twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda itself so badly affected by Hurricane Irma two weeks earlier offered US$300,000 to the Dominica relief effort. Attorney General the Hon Steadroy Benjamin said: “Nothing beats love, nothing beats togetherness.” Skerrit, in turn, pledged to help A&B with its post-Irma reconstruction effort.After wrecking Dominica, Hurricane Maria moved on to Puerto Rico, where six people lost their lives and most of the 3.4 million inhabitants were left without power. The US territory was already in poor shape, staggering under a debt of US$73 billion and the power company was bankrupt. Maria was the first hurricane to hit Puerto Rico directly in almost a century. Nearby Dominican Republic experienced heavy rain, but otherwise seems to have avoided the worst of the hurricane’s effects.Maria has weakened, but there are still worries about the high winds, flooding and storm surges predicted for the low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands (a British Overseas Territory) and the south-eastern islands of the Bahamas. The latter country is hoping its luck will hold, as it managed to escape the worst of Hurricane Irma’s fury two weeks ago.Meanwhile, the UK government will be sending supplies in a C-130 transport aircraft to airlift emergency supplies from Guyana to Antigua and other hurricane-affected islands. The supplies will be distributed in Antigua by CDEMA. A private company, GAICO, has also arranged to ship supplies to St Maarten, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Dominica.