Photo Essay: The Endless Hurricane

Documenting Life in the Shelters, After Maria Hit Dominica

by Fernando Briones, CSTPR Research Affiliate
Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 28 No. 5, 2019

Why a photo essay?
Photography has always been an important tool for social scientists. Today, the pictures’s value as a data, communication tool and art is more relevant than ever: social media, digital photography and cell phones allow for almost anybody to document their environments. However, the limited use of photography essay in research and academia reminds us of the need to diversify our view about the field work and disaster studies.

In the field and for this purpose, the act of taking pictures is not about mastering a technique, it is about the interaction with the people. It requires participant observation and consensus and freedom of the people to choose what they want to share. This interaction is the most valuable part of a photo photo essay because it gives “a voice” to the people, transforming the photographer into an intermediary to communicate a certain part of their reality. In other hand, pictures can speak by them self, leaving the viewer the option to connect and interpret connect and interpret the images.

The worst disaster in history of Dominica
In September 2017 Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck Dominica before pursue its trajectory to Puerto Rico (Pasch et ll, 2019). The small island (population 74,000) in the eastern Caribbean between Guadeloupe and Martinique was swept out for the first time by a Category 5 hurricane since records began (Masters, 2017). The devastation in Dominica was massive, with around 90 percent of houses roofs damaged or destroyed (ReliefWeb, 2017). Also, crops and infrastructure were destroyed, leaving communities isolated due to the landslides that blocked roads. For almost a year, around 50 percent of the habitants lived without electricity, according with testimonies of affected people. Eclipsed by the media coverage in Puerto Rico and often confused with the Dominican Republic, the Commonwealth of Dominica its recovering slowly. Almost two years after the extreme hydro-meteorological event, the impact remains noticeable by the number of destroyed houses along the island. Less visible is life in shelters, generally improvised schools without basic services as toilets and in some of them, running water and electricity. For those who do not have the resources to rebuild their homes, to live in shelter is the only choice: the impact in their health and capacity to recovery is jeopardized. For them, the hurricane Maria still s happening now.

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