Monday 16 September, 2019

Officers 'like family' after Dominica mission

Back in 2017 after one of the worst weather systems on record ravaged Dominica, a group of officers from the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) put aside familial and personal obligations to come to the assistance of their regional brothers and sisters.  

The mission took a tremendous toll on the officers and their efforts were awarded, with the group receiving the Regional Security System Meritorious Medal last Monday. Their beaming faces and group hugs gave no indication of the peril they endured almost two years earlier. 

Maria, a category five hurricane, made landfall on the afternoon of September 15, hurling winds up to 165 mph- by the next morning, the nature isle was unrecognizable, having suffered extreme infrastructural damage. Dominica had been totally cut off from the rest of the world with no telecommunication services, water or electricity. 

In the days after the passage of the hurricane, many residents were listed as missing and many more were feared dead. A breakdown in law and order soon led to a situation of mass looting in the city’s capital. 

RBPF assist Dominica after Hurricane Maria

Local police responded quickly to the call for assistance and fourteen officers packed their bags and journeyed to Dominica, not knowing what grisly scenes would meet them there.  

Head of the team, Inspector Christine Stanford shared with LOOP COMMUNITY the challenges the officers endured during the five-week trip.

“When we got the call, we did not think about family... a country was in crisis and it was our way of showing support so we jumped to the call. 

We left here to go to Dominica not knowing what to expect and when we got there, I went like ‘wow what are we going to do’? Everything was flat and we had no idea what we really signed up to do.”  

The officer with over 30 years of experience said when the team arrived, they were initially housed in a school and were later moved to the island’s national stadium which had no roof as a result of the high winds from the Maria. 

The conditions were rough, she said, as the team had to eat a prepackaged ration known as a ‘meal ready to eat’ and were forced to stay in tents. Inspector Stanford said the arrangements were a minor inconvenience compared to the horror residents in Dominica were living under.  

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Inspector Stanford said the team had a difficult time trying to get into Roseau on the first day of the mission as roads were blocked with debris and fallen trees. When they finally managed to maneuver the obstacles, she said the sight was devastating.  

“By daylight when we opened our eyes to Roseau it was amazing.  We were travelling on a vehicle with water and people were running and pulling the water off the vehicle. If we were walking with our food, they were begging us for food. We wanted to help and we did everything we could, irrespective of the conditions that we were in. I can now live to say I have experienced something that I would never like to experience again.” 

During the mission, Inspector Stanford said the widespread destruction of the island started to overwhelm the team.  

“There were times when we looked as if we were going to fall in and I said ‘no this is not what we are about’. When the team was down, I found things to do and say to keep the pressure up. Dominica is very resilient and what kept us up was when we saw how other people were dealing with it.” 

Now almost two years after the team has completed the mission, Inspector Stanford said they have come out stronger as officers, noting it is “a bond we will have for the rest of our lives”.  

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