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On the ground in Dominica: One survivor's account

REBUILDING: Sharon Daley's partner Davis begins the clean-up operation at his parents' home in Dominica

UK-BASED Sharon Daley, 47 and her partner Davis, 51, from Slough, were with his family in Dominica during Hurricane Maria and experienced the almost complete desecration of the family home before making a swift return to Britain.

Daley has shared her own personal account of the horrifying experience with Voice readers in diary form below:

SHARON'S DIARY ACCOUNT:

Wednesday September 6:

I called Davis to tell him that whilst transferring the fridge magnets onto the new fridge, one fell onto the floor and broke - the Dominica magnet.

Friday September 8:

After boarding the London Gatwick flight to Barbados the flight had to return to stand on the runway, as a passenger had left his bag in the airport terminal. Whilst they were looking for the passenger's bag and he was being offloaded I looked up our connecting flight online as I was worried about missing our connection.

Whilst looking at Liat's [the airline] website, I noticed that they had advised a number of flights had been cancelled due to hurricane Jose. I wanted to come off the flight as I was worried after seeing that, and we had no where to stay in Barbados. Davis convinced me that we should stay on flight and we'd book into a hotel in Barbados until flights resumed.

We ended-up staying at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados for two nights and then flew to Dominica. We had a great week, staying with Davis' parents who have retired and moved back to Dominica - we helped with jobs around the house and general repairs, unaware of the disaster that was about to hit.

Sunday September 17:

I went onto the Liat website again to check our return flight to Barbados for the next day, to see our flight and most other flights had been cancelled due to a potential tropical storm.

Monday September 18:

It was raining and there were slight winds for most of the morning and afternoon. I spent most of the day checking the Internet regarding what we now know was Hurricane Maria. The last update I saw confirmed that it had moved to a Category 3 but should run alongside Dominica with no direct hit expected.

By 7am the island's electricity was off and the winds and rain had strengthened.

By 8pm the winds and rain were unbelievable. We tried to hold the doors shut, but had to give in. We ran from room to room as the ceiling collapsed on us. The roof was torn off and the house was battered.

At approx 10pm for a short period of time the winds and rain calmed down - this is when we believed the eye of the hurricane was over us. Davis made the decision for us to take cover underneath the house as we could hear the wind return.

We ran out holding onto each other and just made it under the outside stairs to the house - Davis put his parents and myself under the stairs and then joined us, wedging a two-part old bed base over the opening of the staircase, where we sheltered from approx 10.15pm through to 7am, avoiding the relentless, terrifying winds. We stood the whole time, with cockroaches, crabs and other insects crawling over us.

Thank God we survived the hurricane.

The next day at approximately 7am daylight roused us and we came out to see the carnage and heartbreaking damage that was done to the house and the land.

Davis' parents are elderly - his father has dementia - and I truly believe if we had not been there they may not have survived.

For a week after, Davis cleared all he could, whilst trying to desperately make contact with home and arrange a flight back to the UK for us. At night we stayed with a neighbour whose roof had been blown off, but had a basement where our family and many others took shelter at night.

We tried many ways to get home, walking for miles on two occasions to report to police and let them know that we where tourists in need of help. After walking for so long, we found that the nearest police station had been destroyed.

When we did get to speak to the police they where no help, advising us to pay local fishermen at port to get us to Guadalupe.

We went to the British Embassy to be advised that the British had not yet taken responsibility for their British Citizens, and Dominica had no responsibility for us. We were in total, utter disbelief.

Wednesday September 27:

We begged a neighbour to take us to the port the next morning (with very little petrol and broken bridges, this was a big ask). We had to obtain a permit from the police to be able to use the road before 8am due to the curfew, which was from 4pm-8am.

There was total mayhem at the port - hundreds of people were trying to get out. A Nigerian medical school had purchased all available tickets in bulk so we were stuck.

We were advised that Tina Alexander was the person for British tourists to talk to, as she would help. Tina liaised continually with the British Army and the RAF for hours, trying to get help for what had now grown to 39 British people, some of whom were very vulnerable.

After a few false starts, our group of 39 was transported by Chinook helicopters onto HMS Ocean for one night - we were given clean water to drink, we were fed and able to have showers. The crew onboard HMS Ocean where amazing, compassionate and offered help to the vulnerable.


HOMEWARD BOUND: Davis (left) and Sharon onboard an RAF Chinook helicopter, heading to HMS Ocean where relief was provided to hurricane survivors

The next morning we were transported to Dominica's airport and some hours later, an RAF aircraft collected us and flew us to Barbados' airport, where we arrived about 9pm and settled into a hotel for the night.


RESCUE MISSION: An RAF Airbus 400 aircraft arriving at Dominica airport to collect 39 stranded UK citizens

Friday September 29:

A rapid response team who had been with us the whole time helped each person make calls to their families and to airlines so that they could make arrangements to fly home to England. Davis and I managed to book a flight for that day and arrived back in England on Saturday September 30.

The aftermath:

Whilst we're safe back home in Slough, Dominica still has no running water, no electricity and very little food. Shops, roads and rivers have been destroyed - its no exaggeration that the island has 95% damage and devastation.

We will forever be grateful to Tina Alexander from the Dominican British Embassy for her help, she was truly amazing, along with the British Rapid Response team, the British Army and the RAF - we thank them for all of their help.

OFFICIAL RELIEF FUND FOR DOMINICA:

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