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‘Thanks for the love, T&T’

Myrle Shillingford (right), her cousin Reginald and his wife Rosemerlyn Shillingford.

Story and photo by Kaelanne Jordan, kjordan.camsel@rcpos.org

Three Dominicans displaced by Hurricane Maria have expressed gratitude to the government and citizens of Trinidad and Tobago for opening their homes and hearts with “pure, natural love”.

For this, Myrle Shillingford, cousin Reginald and his wife Rosemerlyn Shillingford said they will forever have Trinidad in their hearts. “I’ll tell you something about Trinidad, we’ve been treated like we’re in a five-star hotel. I love Trinidad and will never forget Trinidad. Having never experienced trauma like that in my life, Trinidad is the one that came out first. We’re here two weeks now and all that we have were given to us,” Myrle said in an interview with Catholic News, October 21.

Since their arrival October 8, the Shillingfords along with Reginald and Rosemerlyn’s seventeen-year-old grandson, Dante have been staying temporarily at a member of the clergy’s residence in St James. Dante is now pursuing studies at Fatima College.

In an emotional two-hour-long interview, the Shillingfords said while the media’s attention has been largely focused on surveying the extent of Maria’s physical destruction, the residual effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have life-threatening effects of its own. As such, they all agreed that Dominicans are in need of urgent trauma counselling.

Myrle, a retired nurse who was based in Canada said that she endured her own “hurricane” with 33 extensive and life-threatening procedures to her back and face.

Yet, she said, she never realised how quickly one can die until she experienced Maria.

She explained, “When I become fearful, it’s not because of what I have lost; it’s just the fear, the trauma that’s in me. I never had that fear…. Sometimes I don’t want anybody to talk to me….I just can’t take it…It really affected me.”

She continued, “Up to now when it rains or the wind [blows] or you hear the horn of a car it puts me in emotion. Up to now I get light headed and because of not sleeping properly, my feet are swollen,” she said, gesturing to her enlarged ankles.

“With you talking to me, it just brings back memories of fear,” she said, adding that she witnessed death, experienced sickness, emotional disturbance, hunger and fear during and post-Maria.

The Shillingfords also highlighted deep concern for a lack of sanitation currently plaguing Dominica. Reginald, a former sports journalist and public servant said that debris was being dumped on the roadways and fields as there was nowhere left to dispose of garbage. “We want to know if each of the territories in CARICOM can take a share of the garbage,” he joked.

Myrle mentioned the influx of diseases such as leptospirosis and ear-and-eye infections that manifested post-Maria. “…The smell of it all…People want to get rid of garbage, they want to get rid of old clothes….The public cemetery…you could smell the burning and the scent. Human and animal body parts they threw it and burnt it…” she said.

Although they gave different and detailed accounts of that September 18 night, they all agreed, they never experienced a hurricane like Maria. Reginald, who experienced Hurricane David in 1979 said that Maria “exceeded that solidly”.

He said, “There are certain areas that have not yet recovered from Hurricane David. But now this hit, it’s another story.”

Not only was infrastructure damaged, but the island’s agriculture decimated.

He explained, “I went to the Port of Spain market and when I asked for certain commodities, they said they don’t have any. And one vendor said since the hurricane they haven’t been able to get anything from Dominica. So it means the trade has been affected,” he said.

Rosemerlyn, a retired teacher and trained counsellor believed, “if it [Maria] happened in the day, a lot of people would have died because people would have gotten a heart attack just from seeing things disappear. And more people would have perished because people would have been moving from one place to another and with galvanise flying all over, where you going?” she said.

Myrle revealed that two weeks after Maria, the family survived on a bottle of water each for hydration and bath. She said, “The sad thing was we had water of our own that we bought expecting a tropical storm. Each one of us had a bottle of water and with that bottle of water we had paper cups [and] every morning we put a little water in that paper cup and take a wash cloth and that was our bath for days. You cannot drink a lot of water, you just had to take a sip because it had to last,” she said.

Responding to the question if Dominica can one day be restored, an optimistic Rosemerlyn replied, “by the grace of God… But you know what is going to happen, there is going to be less people, because people have already gone.” Many left after Hurricane David and never returned. She expects the same post-Maria.