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‘Beautiful stories’ after the hurricane*
November 8, 2017

Priest visits hurricane-damaged Dominica – Part 1*

Holy Redeemer Retreat Centre

By Kaelanne Jordan,

Dominica-born priest Fr Elton Letang CSsR said that the mass looting from Hurricane Maria “was much worse than the physical hurricane”. Fr Letang, who visited the island October 3–16 told Catholic News in a recent interview that there would not have been need for multi- island relief efforts had the looting been brought under control from onset.

He explained, “When I was there, they were still looting. People were also taking revenge on their employers, so even though they were not looking for food, they were destroying the computers, furniture…even the banks, they took all the laptops and stuff like that…. Even police officers were looting as well,” he said.

Fr Letang said that restoring water was significantly delayed as the water company’s warehouse was also a victim of looting: generators, air pumps and necessary equipment. He said that the island was currently under a curfew which restricted persons from entering the capital of Roseau and several neighbouring communities from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. “So during that curfew while some businesses were open – credit unions, some banks, it was very limited, because of the curfew they [the employer] will give time for employees to get home in time,” he said.

Fr Letang narrated a story of what happened one evening when he was driving during curfew hours to return to the Redemptorist residence, where he was staying.

“I was going home from Giraudel and I had to pass through the curfew area….And there are military officials and strict police: Jamaican military, Grenadian, Trini, Bajan, so they were zero-tolerance. And they asked for a curfew pass and I guess this guy did not have a pass so they just picked him up and put him in the truck.”

“Eventually one came out and came to me and asked for my curfew pass and I said I don’t have a curfew pass. But I showed my priest ID and a US driver’s license and they said ‘Oh you’re a priest, you can go,'” he said, laughing.

Fr Letang assured that the island is “slowly getting back” as LIAT flights have resumed, and electricity and water restored in the city. He shared a popular saying in Dominica post-Maria: “If you don’t have a roof then you’re in style and if you have a roof, you’re not in style”. Although 90 per cent of Dominicans lost their roofs, Fr Letang’s family suffered no such fate. However, they still do not have access to pipe-borne water or electricity and recently purchased a generator from Guadeloupe.

Fr Letang also clarified some misconceptions that Dominicans were consuming only rice and corned beef and sardines, adding that he was able to purchase yams, and dasheens which provided a fully balanced meal.

When asked about Dominicans migrating for a better life, Fr Letang mentioned the majority are young persons and the unemployed while those who remain are very much involved in rebuilding. “They are resilient people and they will rebuild stronger,” he said.

Although he did not get to meet Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, Fr Letang did connect with clergy from the diocese including Fr Brancker John and Deacon Alvin Knight. He said Fr John’s church was damaged and in need of a generator, but Masses were held in the presbytery’s verandah. “So he’s making use of the situation with the little resources he has,” Fr Letang said.

He said the Redemptorist’s Holy Redeemer Retreat Centre was “seriously battered” and they lost their chapel and conference room. Ultimately, he revealed, the majority of the churches damaged by the hurricane can never be used again.