Sheridan Sun reporter Aliza Latta, who recently spent time in the Dominican Republic, reached out to friends this week to bring readers this account of the terror they lived through as Hurricane Irma bore down on their community. Latta used What’sApp and FaceTime to communicate with them during the storm and capture their words in real time.
BY ALIZA LATTA
Wednesday afternoon: 1 p.m.
“I’m in the city now,” Amanda Dishmey says.
Irma is impending. Everyone in the crowded Dominican Republic market can feel the hurricane even though she is still miles away. The Samana locals, including Dishmey, 19, try to gather as much food and supplies as possible before the rain begins.
“We go to buy food for six days,” says Dishmey, who is a dancer. Right now she should be running the entertainment for the resort she works at, but instead, she is scavenging for food. “Because the hurricane is like for three days, but always after [the] hurricane it rains for two more days and businesses do not open because they have to clean and those things.”
The stores are full of people, each wanting to provide food for their families. Dishmey purchases Pampers diapers for her baby cousin, milk, buns and baby wipes.
“I borrowed 1,000 DOP [Dominican pesos] from my friend to pay for the food,” she explains. The food is supposed to last a week. Dishmey hopes she will have enough to pay her friend back next week.
“I’m a bit scared,” she says.
Nine hours before the hurricane is due to hit, the rain starts to fall in Samana.
Dishmey lives with her uncle by the river. “I don’t know where he’s going,” she said. “Maybe to the church.”
Often people go to the church or the schools to escape the hurricane, she says.
Her house is already flooding. The red river beside it is overflowing into her small backyard. She is worried about losing her home.
“It is very, very dangerous to stay in my house tonight,” she says. Her aunt is letting her stay with her instead, in a house on a hill. They hope they’ll be safer on higher ground.
The sky is grey now. The rain has let up a little. Gone is the blue Dominican sky, now replaced with ominous grey.
“There is a lot of wind in Punta Cana,” Dishmey says. Punta Cana is far from Samana, and is considered one of the safer places in the Dominican Republic.
She saw the video of the Punta Cana winds on Twitter and she keeps checking social media to try to determine when Irma will be heading her way.
It’s raining again. Harder.
“Tomorrow is bad. It’s terrible,” Dishmey says. “Tomorrow is a disaster. The hurricane is coming tomorrow… [for] three days.”
It is Miguel Henriquez’s first hurricane. He has heard stories his whole life, but Irma is the first hurricane he’ll encounter first-hand.
“I feel panicked in the moments,” 24-year-old Henriquez says in broken English. He’s a university student, studying to become a math teacher. In addition to school, he works alongside Dishmey at the Grand Bahia Principe Resort in Samana.
“We are nervous, because normally in the different storms — not [a] hurricane — we be ready in the moments,” he says. “We just wait for something different. The hurricane makes everybody scared because it’s coming for three days.”
His house is safe, Henriquez says. “It’s our first time, so we closed all the windows. Normally if the house is not good, the hurricane will destroy it.”
Their glass windows are covered with thick, dark boards. “I think I can be safe over here,” Henriquez says. “But the people that don’t have the houses like me, I feel scared because I don’t know what will happen to them.”
His father has invited his community to take shelter in their house. It is concrete, which is a firmer foundation than most homes. “Friends give friends houses when the hurricane is coming,” Henriquez says. “The police will come around to go to the poor people and put them into the prisons in order to keep them safe.”
But despite the foundation of their home, Henriquez’s family is still afraid.
“We feel like we are in danger of our lives,” he says.
Thursday: 7:54 a.m.
“It’s just raining,” Dishmey says. “[The storm] is said to be entering.”
Dishmey slept poorly last night. It was a long night of listening to the rain and wind batter against the small house she’s staying in. Her baby cousin was crying.
“I think it’s coming,” she says.
“There are trees and light poles on the ground,” Dishmey says. It was loud. She could hear them falling from her house.
Someone sends her a picture of the hotel she and Henriquez work at. The roof is ripped off and folding over the sides of the large building.
She peers outside and sees the trees lying on the ground. It is still raining. The power is gone. The sky is dark.
Gaby Compres, a young teacher in the capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, had to go into work early to prepare her classroom in case of flooding.
“It was scary at first because Santo Domingo was put on the highest alert even though hurricanes don’t usually affect us as much,” Compres says.
Santo Domingo is located on the opposite side of the Dominican Republic, far across from Samana, where Henriquez and Dishmey work and live.
“I am thankful that Irma has moved away from our island because we are not prepared for a hurricane of that magnitude,” Compres says. “But I have also been surprised by the measures taken and by how seriously everyone has reacted to the hurricane— businesses have opened their doors to stay dogs, thousands of shelters have been opened, and people have taken measures to protect themselves and their homes.”
Friday: 9:54 a.m.
The rain has ceased. Irma has moved onto another community, another country to ravage.
Dishmey steps outside of her aunt’s house. Water runs down the roads. Trees have created barricades among the rubble. Parts of the city are floating below her.
But still, she is safe.
“[I feel] sad, because maybe not to me much happens…but to others [it does].”