When Hurricanes Irma And Maria Struck The Dominican Republic…
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from the beginning of June to the end of November. This year we’re all more aware of that fact than ever.
The Dominican Republic, where I’m living, knows that there is a chance of a hurricane or a tropical storm arriving each year. The country is well prepared. In addition, these days it’s possible to access a wealth of data online, so everyone can see as soon as a tropical wave has left the west coast of Africa and is on its way across the ocean.
Whether it will develop into a storm or indeed a hurricane depends on many factors, including the winds it encounters, the temperature of the ocean, and the amount of dust from the Sahara desert in the atmosphere (the dust can hinder development).
We can see a storm or a hurricane when it is a week away and track it to predict whether it will come to the island or not and which parts of the island might be affected.
This year, hurricanes Irma and Maria were both due to pass straight along the north of the island. However, until they actually arrived, it was hard to know if the eye would be offshore or a direct hit all along the north coast.
The island began hurricane preparations a few days before the hurricane was due to arrive in each case. This means buying candles and flashlights and ensuring there is enough gasoline for generators and that inverter batteries are topped up.
We know to keep all cell phones, laptops, and tablets fully charged. This is because the country turns off the electricity as a storm passes through so that loose wires do not electrocute people or cause fires. As we are used to frequent cuts, many people have backup systems in place.
In my home, have a small battery-powered radio in case of an outage of several days so we have some means of keeping abreast of what is happening.
The other main commodity to arrange for is water. In some parts of the Dominican Republic, water comes directly to the faucets. In others, people have cisterns or wells. In the case of the latter two, water is pumped into the house from the cistern or well using electricity, so no electricity means no water. In addition, aqueducts, where the water is stored, can be damaged in a hurricane, meaning an interruption in the water supply of days or weeks.
To be prepared for any of these eventualities, we buy five-gallon bottles of drinking water and fill buckets and containers with water for household use.
I live about 50 miles inland from the north coast, in the mountains, so both Irma and Maria passed me and I experienced relatively little damage.
During Irma, which was a Category 5 event, I was working as the Dominican Republic correspondent for The Washington Post, sending them feeds about the hurricane all throughout the day.
The rains started at about 3 a.m. and continued very heavily until about 4 p.m. The winds howled from about 10 a.m., becoming stronger and remaining constant. Trees were bent over, branches flew around, and my biggest fear was that our 30-foot aerial on the roof would break, which would mean no internet.
But we were lucky, and that didn’t happen. The electricity went off for three hours, but I was able to stay connected to provide information to the paper and to various Facebook groups of people in the country or with family here.
Along the north coast, in the tourist and expat areas of Sosúa, Cabarete, and Puerto Plata, as well as the Samaná Peninsula, the electricity went out for three or four days, but apart from that there was little major damage.
Maria was a different story. This was only a Category 3 hurricane when it passed the north coast. However, Maria was moving much more slowly than Irma, which meant she affected the island longer.
The main issue for the country from Maria was the flooding, both because of the rain and also because some of the country’s main dams were opened to keep them from breaching. The dams spilled into the already full rivers until they overflowed. Many Dominicans live near the rivers, and many of these people lost their homes. Some lost their lives.
In addition, much of the agricultural land was flooded, causing the loss of crops. This will lead to some price rises.
The main effect of Maria for my household was a loss of water. Muddy water blocked the main pump. It took a couple of weeks to make the necessary repairs. In the meantime, we bought truckloads of water. A truckload cost about US$40 and lasted us four or five days.
So, yes, the Dominican Republic gets hurricanes, but this island is used to getting hurricanes. Dominicans know how to prepare and how to recover… and make sure we expats know what to do, too.
Lindsay de Feliz