Thursday September 21, 2017

'I saw death that night,' says pregnant Canadian trapped in hurricane-ravaged Dominica

Canadian citizen Jael Joseph is worried she will run out of food and water for her and her family in Dominica.

Canadian citizen Jael Joseph is worried she will run out of food and water for her and her family in Dominica. (Jael Joseph/Facebook)

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Jael Joseph is seven months pregnant and trapped in hurricane-ravaged Dominica with her five-year-old son.

The Dominican-Canadian left her Toronto home in June to visit her significant other on the Caribbean island.

But after Hurricane Maria struck the island, killing at least 15 people there and leaving the once-lush nation in shambles, she doesn't know how she'll get home. 

Joseph spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the situation on the ground in Dominica. Here is part of their conversation.

Can you just tell us, how are you? How are you coping and surviving after this hurricane?

I'm actually kind of terrified because we've had to try to extend our rations as much as possible. You know, we were expecting a Category 2 storm, so we were expecting that in the next few days we would be able to go, you know, back to the stores and get supplies.

There's very very little food going around. There's very little water, and when I say water, in terms of drinking water, I cannot drink the river water. I get extremely sick. I'm expecting right now and I drank the water yesterday and I was sick all night, vomiting and diahrea.

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Homes were completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Roseau, Dominica. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

What kind of shelter do you and the others who are with you have at this point?

We have a concrete roof, so we're able to survive under the concrete roof, thankfully. But from where I am, I can see other people's homes and their homes are completely destroyed.

The contents of the living room we're in, the storm actually sucked every single thing out.  Everything was sucked out because the storm broke through the doors and took everything with it.

I mean, I thought I was going to die. Because we were all stuck in one room and the only thing that was preventing the storm from coming into that room was my sister was behind the door and holding down the door with a chair anchoring against a closet. Like, it was just absolutely crazy. Like, I saw death that night.

You saw your own death.

I did, absolutely. And it's terrifying. It's scary to even close your eyes because you don't know what's going to happen. And when you close your eyes, you hear the howling of the winds. Like, it sounded like a pack of wolves.

It must have been just horrifying for you and the others.

It was. My son is absolutely traumatized by it. He will not sleep alone. He lodges himself in between the two of us. He's five. And he just keeps asking, "Is there another storm coming? Is there another one coming?"

When you went walking around in Dominica, what did you see? What does it look like?

Dominica is known as the nature island of the world with so much greenery. Everything is absolutely brown right now. Everything is down. Lines are down. ... You can see people's homes completely gutted out. 

People are on the streets. They're roaming the streets. You know, we went to the river this morning and people were in the river because they're trying to clean out whatever is left of their homes.

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Damaged homes from Hurricane Maria are shown in this aerial photo over the island of Dominica. (Nigel R. Browne/Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency via Reuters)

I was talking to a lady in the river and she was actually saying to me, you know, she lost everything and the entire contents of her house is under mud. And her boyfriend had to literally go in and dig out clothes so she could come to the river to wash so she could have something to put over her kids' backs. And she has five children.

The hospital is down. People are not able to get medical attention as they require. 

We understand the roof of the hospital is also gone, so people, even if they can get the attention, they haven't got a roof over their heads.

I have an aunt and an uncle here who are also Canadian and my uncle is on dialysis, and he's going to need his medications soon, and we're just absolutely worried that something is going to happen (voice cracks).

Jael, I'm so sorry.

You and your son are trying to get back to Canada. What are the chances you'll be able to get out of there?

I have no idea because the last we heard the Prime Minister informed the country that commercial flights are not allowed into Dominica as of yet.

We've considered, you know, possibly going out by sea. ... but that's another issue because of these swells of the sea, including the amount of logs and debris on the ocean. 

It's crazy because I don't know if we'll have water and food to survive the weekend.

This interview has beed edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Jael Joseph.