In the Aftermath of Hurricane Georges
- The Caribbean, Dominican Republic
- Personal Essay
Hurricane Georges, which hit the Dominican Republic September 22, 1998, was a defining experience in my life. This was my third hurricane, but never had I personally seen, heard, or felt winds of 150 mph. God willing, I never will again.
I opted to remain at my site, Hato Mayor del Rey, and for five solid hours Georges tore, pummeled, and destroyed this area. Eighty percent of the homes in this town of 50,000 to 60,000 were damaged or destroyed; 30 percent of the 80-plus schools in the district were destroyed and 30 percent badly damaged. Never had I witnessed such destruction by a natural force.
By 4 p.m. that day, the winds and rain had abated enough so we could go out and survey the destruction. I was staying with friends, and about a third of their zinc roof was gone. Rain was pouring in everywhere.
A neighbor across the street had one of the few houses with a concrete ceiling and, when she saw us, she immediately called to tell us to bring what we could save to her house. There were easily 30 to 40 people in her modest home, but there we came with armload after armload of clothing and bedding. Everyone brought whatever edible food they could find for all to eat. (I remember contributing bread, cheese, coffee, and Honey Nut Cheerios.)
We knew there was no hope for electricity for a long time, but by the third day with no water, this became critical. My friends and I had small reserves and everyone collected all the rainwater they could. Neighbor lent to neighbor, sometimes only enough to brew coffee or boil a pot of rice.
In Hato Mayor, the Peace Corps established three rural food distribution centers, rented a large truck, and made a total of four round trips from Santo Domingo to rural areas to distribute some 7,000 food bags. My schoolteacher friend and a friend of his worked 15-hour days with me, and never once did I hear a complaint. People were hurting and they had found a way to help. No further incentive was needed.
My boss at the Peace Corps office had asked me to survey the schools and assess possibilities of repair. Within one month after Georges, a comprehensive program was in effect; through donations, the Peace Corps would supply materials to repair eight rural schools and the communities provided free labor. I also contacted private schools in Santo Domingo, which were generous in supplying textbooks and school supplies to replace what had been lost or destroyed. By the end of 1998, 1,500 rural students were back in newly renovated schools. The Peace Corps program to rebuild hurricane-damaged schools was a perfect example of community strength pulled together for a common cause. At community meetings prior to the renovation of a school, we worked with community leaders and set up committees. The result was awe-inspiring. People were nailing on zinc sheets for a new school roof while others were painting, repairing windows, and hauling debris.
I was most fortunate to have been able to be a part of all this, to have been able to witness firsthand the generosity and concern of one human being for another.