National Geographic : 1980 Sep
Before David After David Dominica By FRED WARD BLACK STAR SATELLITE PICTURES do not lie. The evidence was clear that Hurri cane David was a monster, and it had turned on a collision course for the Windward Islands. Newly indepen dent Dominica lay directly in its path. Radio warnings pinpointed the giant's location, but with disbelief born of help lessness and an unrealistic notion that their island's mountains would offer pro tection, most Dominicans went about business as usual. On August 29, 1979, one of nature's most awesome displays, a fully formed hurricane, churned in from the sea, unleashing its forces of unbear able winds and devastating waves to overpower the lush landscape. " 'Oh, God,' I thought, 'we're done for sure,'" recalled Delia Winston. As the winds grew, she and her husband, Allan dale, took refuge in their basement. "We could look out our window over the Ro seau Valley. The air had turned into a milky green swirl of mud, water, coco nuts, and sheets of galvanized roof, like flying razor blades. Then our own roof went, and I knew we were dead." Miraculously, on this island of 78,000 people who mainly live in hastily nailed wooden shacks, David claimed only 56 lives. The low toll seems inexplicable, for the storm's eye passed directly across Dominica's southern half, returning to the sea just north of its ramshackle capital, Roseau. David was calculated to have 145-mile-per-hour sustained winds here, with gusts to 175 mph. Surprisingly, al though satellite photographs confirm the hurricane was more than 300 miles wide, Dominica's north coast, less than 20 miles away, suffered almost no damage. For me, Dominica's principal appeal has always been its rugged, unspoiled beauty. Vast interior preserves hold one of the Caribbean's most extensive rain forests. David ravaged this resource, leaving in its wake trunks stripped even of their bark. The fierce winds snapped coconut palms as if they were match sticks. Hills were raked bare. Although the banana crop, providing 85 percent of the island's income, was mostly destroyed, the fast-growing plants came back in time to produce fruit for En gland in May. Coconut palms, cultivated for oil, were not so heavily damaged, but the seven-year wait for mature nuts means a considerable setback. Roads are badly pitted, and repairing the island's electricity system will take years. Even before David's winds died, an epidemic of looting virtually paralyzed Dominica, as people took to the streets to steal food, building materials, furniture, clothes, trucks, and cars. On the docks and in customs areas even relief ship ments became fair game for thieves. Free food from overseas was a mixed blessing. At the critical moment when Dominicans needed to be rebuilding their island, long lines of hungry people formed, and commerce and construction almost stopped. David was the crowning disaster of Dominica's recent troubled history. Since gaining independence from England on November 3, 1978, the island nation has spiraled from one political crisis to an other, forcing the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet in June 1979. While still reeling from the effects of self government gone awry, Dominica fell under David's attack, which terminated any immediate hopes for recovery. Is there a solution for the small island's plight? Practically the only one heard on Dominica is the plea for more aid. But no country can hope to survive on foreign largess. Said Lennox Honychurch, scion of Dominica's oldest white family: "Do minicans are also going to have to learn how to attract industry and capital and how to work competitively again if we are going to survive as a nation." **, 357 I .