“We weren’t ready. We didn’t have candles or dry foods. We went about our night just as any other, the children were all home from school; only a little Kweyol excitement around the house,” says Justina, a mother of ten.
“Kweyol” is short for “Jounen Kweyol” an annual holiday in St. Lucia when families cook local foods and put on cultural displays of art and theater during a month-long celebration. Kweyol is an opportunity for citizens of smaller communities, which are still rich in authentic St. Lucian culture, to make money by selling food and crafts to visitors from around the island. But this year, festivities were interrupted by Hurricane Tomas, which hit the island with the force of a Category 1 storm on October 30-31.
“No home, no clothes, nothing!” says Justina, still struck with disbelief. “This is the worst we’ve ever experienced. My husband cannot even walk. He was supposed to go for an operation but he is unable to because of the hurricane.”
Like so many others throughout St. Lucia, Justina’s family wasn’t aware of how strong the storm would be until it was too late. Around 9:30pm everyone was asleep but Justina was awoken by what sounded like “a waterfall in my yard.” Quickly jumping out her bed, Justina found that the “waterfall” was in fact the river rushing through her living room about to wash her house and family members away. Justina and her family hurried out as fast as they could to save their own lives but couldn’t save any of their belongings. They lost everything including all of their clothing and shoes.
“My baby was wet in the rain. She has asthma and I had no idea how I would attend to her with all her medicine gone. All my children were soaking wet. Alston, my 11-year-old got scraped by river rocks and branches as (he) attempted to blindly jump across the river. I could not even see them properly. It was so dark and the rain was too heavy and the wind was blowing all the trees,” says Justina.
The family now resides at Fond se Jacques Catholic Church, a designated emergency shelter where International Medical Corps is supporting the provision of emergency medical care. Justina’s family has received basic donations of food and clothing items and medical care. With so many people facing their own problems, Justina doesn’t know where to turn with no job, a sick husband and ten children including a baby of only six-months-old. She now faces the difficult task of rebuilding her life.
Throughout St. Lucia, International Medical Corps’ emergency response teams are responding to the increased health care and water/sanitation needs following widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas. In addition to health care and training, we are providing essential medical equipment and supplies, health promotion and disease prevention activities; and referral to medical and social resources.