"The island had been devastated"

Responding to one of the Caribbean's worst hurricanes in history

Jeff's story from the field

Hurricane Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Irma was a Category 5 Hurricane, with wind speeds of up to 185 mph that swept through the Caribbean islands in September 2017. 

After suffering the wrath of Hurricane Irma, the Caribbean was again pummelled by Hurricane Maria. The arrival of these Category 5 hurricanes made this one of the most ferocious hurricane seasons ever recorded.

In the months since the hurricanes hit, ShelterBox delivered aid across six countries, tailoring our response to best support different communities.

In St Kitts, Nevis and the Dominican Republic, we supported families to rebuild their homes with the provision of ShelterKits. Elsewhere in the British Virgin Islands, our tents were the best option — creating a warm safe home while the long clean-up process takes place. 

Australian ShelterBox Response Team Member, Jeff Barnard, from Valla Beach, New South Wales had previous experience in Dominica and was a perfect fit for the team. This is his story.

“When Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the Caribbean island of Dominica, residents fled to the safest corners they could find.

They huddled in bathrooms, squeezed into cabinets, camped out in shelters—going anywhere they could to get away from shaking windows and rising floodwaters.

95% of buildings were damaged or destroyed and the few remaining roads clogged with tree trunks, the distribution of aid – much of which has come from neighbouring islands was treacherous and slow. 

Flying in to Dominica it was clear the island had been devastated.

The island which was once a tropical paradise known as the nature island was completely devoid of green leaves. Trees were stripped bare. With roads and bridges affected the isolated communities were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Logistics plays a huge part of the role in getting shelter to affected communities. Once unloaded we needed to transport across the island, store again, then distribute to remote communities after training and needs and capacity assessments were complete. 

Our initial needs assessment highlighted the less accessible north east of the island as being badly affected and thus far having received precious little assistance. The team decided this would be ShelterBox’s focus for the response.

Having spent 12 months on Dominica previously in a development role,  I was extremely keen to be of assistance.  It was humbling to be offered the opportunity to return, to locate communities in need, establish the most desperate assistance required and work alongside local people to provide this assistance.

Whether it is a few coins dropped in a local ShelterBox collection tin or regular support, this money adds up to a massive response system driven by volunteers like myself. 

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