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Doctor returns from hurricane relief work

Roslyn Bascombe-Adams (Photograph supplied)

A Bermudian doctor described the devastation in the Caribbean island of Dominica yesterday after it was hammered by Hurricane Maria.

Roslyn Bascombe-Adams, sent to the island as part of a Pan American Health Organisation aid mission, said: “Every Dominican that I came in contact with had been impacted by the storm. Those who had not lost their roofs had been flooded.”

Dr Bascombe-Adams, deputy chief of the emergency department and hyperbaric services at Bermuda Hospitals Board, was called up for aid duty last month and at first thought she was headed for the British Virgin Islands badly damaged by Hurricane Irma.

She and the PAHO team were in Barbados when Category 5 Maria hit Dominica and they were taken by Barbados Coast Guard boat in a 14-hour journey to the stricken island instead.

Dr Bascombe-Adams said: “We had no information coming out — there were no communications.

“We didn’t know what the ports were like, we didn’t know what the airports were like, and therefore going in by plane was not even an option.”

But the devastation of the storm was immediately evident.

“As we approached the island, we could see the immense impact on the roofs of the buildings as we looked ashore.”

Dr Bascombe-Adams added: “We realised, from the time we got on the ground, that the impact was likely to be catastrophic.”

She said the island was without power or a phone service and almost all the roads were blocked by debris.

Dr Bascombe-Adams added that in the capital Roseau 90 per cent of utility poles were “bent across the roads like toothpicks”.

She explained that problems were worsened by the Roseau river, which runs through part of the capital and had been rerouted years ago.

Dr Bascombe-Adams said: “It literally reclaimed its old path, flew through the town and gutted buildings in a most formidable way.”

She said one of the critical medical problems was the island’s inability to provide kidney dialysis due to lack of power and water.

Dr Bascombe-Adams added the team also had to get the hospital’s emergency department up and running again.

She said: “It had lost part of its roof, but the staff were still able to function to some extent.”

She added: “They had flooding in the diagnostic imaging department, so they couldn’t use their X-rays and they couldn’t use their CT scan.”

Both the blood bank and the mortuary were also out of commission due to the lack of power.

Dr Bascombe-Adams said: “It became very trying for the staff who were present to manage people who had injuries who were able to be brought in.”

She added around three times as many people as normal showed up to the emergency department in the first days after the storm.

And she said: “This doesn’t mirror all persons who were injured, because there are injured persons who cannot get to the hospital because roads are blocked, because of landslides and disruption.”

Dr Bascombe-Adams said the situation was still “very chaotic” when she left a week later.

She added: “There is no quick fix for Dominica. The infrastructure is so severely damaged, and the impact so severe, it’s going to be months for them to build a semblance of normality.

“When I left, about 60 per cent of the doctors had reported for duty and about 50 per cent of the nursing staff. Largely that’s because they couldn’t get in.”

Dr Bascombe-Adams said the hardest thing for her was to stop herself pitching in to help the injured because her role was strategic not hands-on.

She added: “It is difficult — but I understand that there is a bigger picture.

“It’s the last thing that the director of PAHO reminded me — ‘Rosalyn, you are going in to provide strategic guidance.’

“I kept hearing those words in my head when I got there.”