'There's nowhere that is not hit': Manitoba Dominican, Mexican communities reeling after disasters hit home

Members of Manitoba's Mexican and Caribbean communities are working to help after two natural disasters left hundreds dead in recent days.

At least 225 people killed in Mexico earthquake, Dominica devastated by Hurricane Maria

A man tries to salvage a table belonging to his restaurant before the arrival of Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday. (Ricardo Rojas/Reuters)

Members of Manitoba's Mexican and Caribbean communities are working to help after an earthquake and a hurricane left hundreds of people in their home countries dead in recent days.

An earthquake in Mexico City destroyed buildings, injured more than 2,000 and killed at least 245 on Tuesday. And Hurricane Maria's heavy wind and rain knocked out power, took out homes and killed at least 10 across the Caribbean, including seven in Dominica. Death tolls from both disasters are expected to climb.

"There's nowhere that is not hit ... people have been washed away," said Tina Harker, who has been unable to reach family or friends since the storm hit Dominica on Monday night.

"It's been just silence," said Harker, who was born in Dominica but has lived in Winnipeg for five years. "It's sad."

There about 500 people from the area living in Manitoba right now, many of whom have been here for years, Harker said. Harker's brother had lived in the U.S. for years but retired in Dominica just months before the Category 5 storm struck.

Tina Harker is the president of the Commonwealth of Dominica Association of Manitoba. (Tina Harker)

"By all accounts, nobody has anything left," Harker said. "The prime minister has described it as everything that money can buy or replace has been destroyed."

Harker, who is president of the Commonwealth of Dominica Association of Manitoba, said it's painful to see photos of the devastation continue to pour in.

"Somebody from Trinidad has been out with a helicopter and taking aerial photos, and I'm telling you, nothing is pleasant about this, about the photographs. It's just debris."

The period of highest rainfall in Dominica starts in November, which worries Harker and adds even more urgency to the situation.

Rescue efforts continue in Mexico City

Meanwhile workers in Mexico City are still digging victims from the rubble after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit on Tuesday. 

Dancer Jaime Vargas was in the middle of preparing for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's 2017-18 season when the earthquake rocked the city where he grew up.

Rescuers, firefighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers search for survivors in Mexico City on Wednesday. A powerful 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico City on Tuesday, causing panic among the city's 20 million inhabitants on the 32nd anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

"It was a big shock when I learned the news," Vargas said. "I still have family there and lots of friends, and when I saw the images, I realized how powerful the earthquake had been."

It reminded him of the devastating earthquake that hit the city, killing thousands of people, on the same date in 1985 when he was 15.

"My father was getting ready to go to work, my mother was making breakfast, and I was with her in the kitchen getting ready to go to high school," Vargas said.

They lived in the north part of the city, which often doesn't feel the shake of earthquakes as severely as southern areas.

"You don't feel earthquakes there very much because of the soil, but we felt this one. It was a very strong one."

Jaime Vargas is a dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet from Mexico City. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

That quake damaged his school and other buildings, but there wasn't nearly the same amount of media coverage or influx of photos circulating in those days before the internet, he said.

Some organizations and business still hold drills every Sept. 19 because of the 1985 earthquake. Vargas said his friend, a dance instructor in Mexico City, took part in a drill with others in the morning on Tuesday, hours before the earthquake hit.

"There's always this thing in the back of your head, thinking 'How can I help, what can we do and how are things going?'" Vargas said.

The Mex Y Can Association for Manitoba currently has a GoFundMe campaign online to help raise money for victims of the earthquake.

The Dominica association is continuing to collect supplies such as canned food, tarps, candles, batteries and flashlights to send as part of disaster relief efforts.

Anyone interested in donating to Dominica relief efforts can call 204-962-7083 or find out more on the Commonwealth of Dominica Association of Manitoba's Facebook page.

"The wonderful and heartwarming thing about island people is they are incredibly resilient," said Harker. "We are people of extreme resilience and you just put one foot in front of the other."

With files from Information Radio and Meaghan Ketcheson