Canadian sailors find 'near total devastation' on hurricane-ravaged island
The crew of HMCS St. John's is assisting in Dominica following Hurricane Maria, which devastated the small Caribbean island. (CFOperations/Twitter)
ROSEAU, Dominica -- A storm-ravaged Caribbean island caught in the eye of hurricane Maria's ferocious winds and torrential rains has suffered "near total devastation," the captain of a Canadian warship anchored off Dominica says.
Cmdr. Gord Noseworthy said the Halifax-based frigate HMCS St. John's arrived Sunday in Dominica, a small island in the Lesser Antilles pummelled by the catastrophic Category 5 storm.
"It's a volcanic island, which was at one time rich in tropical rain forest," he said via satellite phone from aboard the ship Tuesday. "Unfortunately it's near total devastation ... it's completely wiped out.
"The streets are filled with debris from the upper mountain ridge," Noseworthy said. "There is sand and silt all over the streets ... literally there are cars nearly buried in the sand and silt."
Noseworthy said locals are growing increasingly desperate a week after the hurricane struck the island, knocking out electricity and running water.
"There is minimal electricity," he said. "The power grid has been partially restored in the capital. But for the outlying villages there is no electricity, only generators for those folks lucky enough to have one."
The real crisis, however, is the lack of safe drinking water, he said.
"A lot of the water that they have has been contaminated due to the flooding from the significant rainfall," Noseworthy said.
The 230-member crew is removing debris from streets, airlifting food and water to isolated areas and delivering medical aid, he said.
HMCS St. John's is equipped with two reverse osmosis desalination systems, which can produce more than 15,000 litres of fresh water a day.
The water is loaded into large bladders that can hold up to 1,000 litres and airlifted to shore.
"We have the ability to turn salt water into fresh," Noseworthy said. "We're bringing big water bladders from our Sea King helicopter to the shore line so we can get fresh water to those in need and those trapped in outlying villages."
Meanwhile, many roads on the island are filled with debris and fallen trees. Sailors are working with chainsaws to cut the trees and other debris and remove it from the roadway, he said.
"The people on the ground right now in various communities are starting to become a bit more desperate, in that it's been a week," Noseworthy said. "But at the same time they recognize we're there to help them and they're quite appreciative and thankful for everything we're doing."
The sailors located several Canadian citizens Monday, who have been repatriated aboard a Hercules military aircraft, he said.
Noseworthy said it's unclear how long the warship will be assisting Dominica, noting that there is much work that remains on the ground.
The ship dispatches 80 to 90 people to the island each day, plus additional crew members to provide air assistance, he said.
"It's extremely hot and humid. It gets up to a high of about 40 degrees Celsius with humidity each day," Noseworthy said. "We're working long days from sunrise until sunset.
"The crew is extremely motivated and energized," he said. "They have quite the sense of accomplishment in being able to help those that are quite desperate for aid."
Earlier this month, the Royal Canadian Navy ship helped residents of South Caicos after hurricane Irma battered the small island in the Turks and Caicos archipelago.
When it became clear that a second hurricane was bearing down on the region, the Canadian sailors helped South Caicos residents prepare for the incoming storm and made way for safe harbour off the island of Jamaica.
Once the hurricane had passed, Noseworthy said the decision was made to direct the crew's efforts to the small island of about 70,000 people.
-- By Brett Bundale in Halifax