THERE is no doubt that Hurricane Maria, the bat out of hell, came to cause nothing but carnage and destruction.
On the night of September 18, she did just that in Dominica and changed the lives of residents there forever, one of whom is today’s FITC, Maxine Burton.
Burton was once a social, direct and adequately confident woman who loved being in the company of her friends and loved ones and also had a passion for photography. However, if you met her today, you would not see these qualities in the first impression because Maria has (for now) left a dark cloud of sadness and frustration over her beautiful face.
True to the saying that every dark cloud has a silver lining, Burton sees a brighter future ahead and is slowly becoming more optimistic. But here is what she had to say about her current mindset and her memories of that fateful night Maria hit her homeland.
THE VOICE: Can you recount your experience on the day of the passage of Hurricane Maria?
Burton: The night of the passage of Maria, I went to the hospital because my sister is a doctor and she was on call and was required to be at the hospital, so we both decided that I shouldn’t stay home alone. I packed our bags and went to meet her.
It started out as a lot of rain and wind but the room in which I was staying started to flood eventually, so we had to leave that room, even though we didn’t have anywhere else to go since other rooms in the hospital were already getting flooded. A lot of the patients were already being moved to downstairs because the roof of the ante-natal room had fallen in, so there was water coming in everywhere.
Patients had to be moved from their beds and rooms and taken downstairs. All this was being done in pitch darkness because the hospital’s generators died at around 9:00 p.m. So we stayed upstairs for a bit while the winds got stronger and the rain got heavier.
It seemed like every room we went to the roof was going to fly off. There was so much noise outside of wind, galvanise — things banging on the building. You could hear all of that and it just felt like we were not safe, no matter what room we went to. We just kept it moving.
We finally got to a hallway where a few other nurses were, bearing in mind that patients were still being moved downstairs. We ended up in a corridor because we didn’t feel safe anywhere. But then the electrical doors just burst open into that corridor. Everyone started screaming and shouting and that’s when we decided that we needed to go downstairs as well, especially since we were the last set of people upstairs.
We tried to go downstairs but when we got to where the stairs were, there was water everywhere — plus right along the stairs, there was a massive glass window, so we were trying to decide whether we should take the risk of passing there with all the flooding plus the flying objects outside that could possibly burst through the window whilst we’re on the stairs.
In the end, after working up the nerves, there were literally only six of us left upstairs; all of us held hands and we finally made it downstairs.
All the patients from the entire hospital were downstairs, so there were two to a bed. Patients were everywhere in the dark and in the water patients who just finished surgery, those who were meant to be lying down were sitting. There were new-born babies, very sick people — everyone in this one area in the darkness. It was horrible!
Doctors were trying their best to keep the patients safe and comfortable. The only slight comfort was because we were somewhat underground, we could not hear the real commotion going on outside. We could still hear the wind but not as much. Downstairs was starting to get flooded as well: the walls were wet and I started to get scared that the water from upstairs would cause the floor to cave in on us. But I never said that out loud, of course. That was an ordeal and it felt like the longest night ever.
THE VOICE: When it was all over and you went outside for the first time, what sight were you greeted to?
Burton: The next day when we could finally go outside, there was just devastation everywhere. You came out and you thought you knew what you’re expecting but then you see your country and you think: ‘This is bad, this is so bad!” I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was dreaming and thought this could not be real.
My thought immediately went on to the rest of my family and how they were doing, whether they were safe, where were they?! There was no electricity or cellphone data and we could not get in touch with them, so that was the hard part.
We didn’t live far from the hospital, so when things finally calmed down, we decided to walk home to see what had happened. We were walking and there was galvanise everywhere, houses with no roofs, flooding — words can’t even explain because in my head, even though I knew it was bad, I was still hoping that maybe there was less devastation than I imagined.
THE VOICE: How did your house fare during the hurricane?
Burton: When I saw the area of Goodwill where I lived, I was just shocked. When we got to the house, we realised that part of the roof was gone and the wind and rain had literally burst our back door open while our front door was stuck shut. Downstairs was completely flooded, the ceiling from upstairs was on the floor, our furniture from downstairs was outside because the wind pulled them all outside; food, everything. The only place left untouched was the bathroom and some of our belongings that were on the higher level were okay. Our clothes were pretty much all that was fine. So we spent a whole day just cleaning the house, sweeping water and debris out and bringing our furniture back inside and putting stuff out to dry.
THE VOICE: In all the chaos, what was your biggest concern?
Burton: There was one night when we decided to sleep at the house, bearing in mind that we didn’t have a back door. But in the hospital, which is where we stayed up until we left the country, we were all sleeping on mattresses on the floor, including doctors and nurses. But the building was destroyed, so we went home. Although we did our best to board up our door, I still felt uneasy because of the looting. That was my biggest fear. People were breaking into places to steal not just food items but things like televisions, fridges. They were breaking into people’s homes.
So the second night we were going to sleep home, my sister’s friend, who is also a doctor, told us about the morning when she finally went home, opened up her house and it was damaged as expected. She went into her bedroom and when she came out, there was a man in her living room with a knife. Now she is crazy (laughs), so she lunged for a pair of scissors and a stick and asked the man what he was doing in her house.
He answered: ‘Well, it’s a hurricane, so I come to see what I can find!’ She responded: ‘I don’t know who you are but this is my house and these are my things, and if you don’t get out, one of us will die today!’ Luckily for her, the man ran away. That was all we needed to hear to make us change our mind about staying home for a second night.
THE VOICE: What are your hopes for your homeland and your near future?
Burton: I love Dominica and I just hope that the people still there try their best to carry on. I’m disheartened by the way people in such devastation felt the need to make people feel unsafe and vulnerable in their country and at home. Once they’ve gone past that, I’m hopeful that Dominica is rebuilt stronger and better.
I had literally just started to settle in [after spending 11 years in the UK and being back on island for all but six weeks], and I’m thinking I’ve just come from the UK to come back to my home and I was just starting to get used to the change, my Dominica, my home — and Maria happened.
I wouldn’t say no to going back but I am looking forward to giving St. Lucia a try. Being here, it’s another fresh start and I’m still taking it in. But I’m just grateful that I have friends who have family here that can help me through this — that is a humongous help.