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Hurricane Maria: Families 'Feel Helpless' for Loved Ones on Battered Dominica

The monster storm, which killed at least 17 people across the Caribbean, cut off cellphone service on much of the island.
Resident survey damage from Hurricane Maria in Roseau, Dominica, on Sept. 20, 2017.
People survey the damage in Roseau, Dominica, on Sept. 20, the day after Hurricane Maria passed over the island.AFP - Getty Images

Families of people stranded on the Caribbean island of Dominica were desperate Thursday for any scrap of information about their loved ones after deadly Hurricane Maria ravaged the region.

The monster storm, which killed at least 17 people across the Caribbean, cut off cellphone service on much of the island — leaving families without a way of finding out what was happening on the ground.

For some, the anguish of waiting to hear from their relatives was becoming too much to bear.

Amy Turner from Austin, Texas, has been looking for her 40-year-old brother, Ben, since Monday night.

Ben co-owns a so-called eco-lodge on the east coast of Dominica, having moved to the island from New York about a month ago.

Ben Turner has not been heard from since Monday night when Hurricane Maria slammed the Caribbean island of Dominica. Amy Turner

Turner said she last heard from her brother at 6:30 p.m. Monday night. He was in a shelter with a few other people just up the hill from the lodge, she said.

"I am worried that they are trapped because they are at a dead end of a very remote road," Turner said. "I feel helpless … The lack of communication and information these past few days has been so hard."

Patrick Cooper of Atlanta said he was relieved to finally find out that his 26-year-old son, Nick, in the town of Portsmouth in northwest Dominica, was OK and being evacuated to a nearby island.

University officials said Wednesday that more than 1,400 of its students and faculty were accounted for and would be evacuated by boat to St. Lucia to the south.

Cooper said he had not heard from his son, a medical student at Ross University, since the hurricane hit Monday night. But on Wednesday, he found out that Nick had checked in with the university staff and was fine.

Nick Cooper is a medical student from Atlanta, Georgia studying at Ross University in Dominica.Patrick Cooper

"When you watch in horror as a vicious, brutal storm barrels over an island, it's hard not to be panicked," Cooper said. "So many things could happen, so you just want assurances your loved one is alright."

Cooper said he spent two sleepless nights trying to look for any news on what's happening in Dominica. "The lack of information is maddening," he added. "My heart weeps for all the parents and family members who were waiting and still have not heard."

A U.S.-based spokeswoman for the Rosalie Bay Resort, on the east coast of Dominica, said it had lost contact with staff late Monday.

The last message from a manager, about 45 minutes after Maria made landfall, said the situation was "really bad and very scary.”

There has still been no communication with the resort staff.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Thursday that the death toll in Dominica had reached more than 15 as a result of the storm.

Hartley Henry, a top adviser to Skerrit, said there was a "tremendous loss" of housing and public buildings, while the general hospital also "took a beating."

Video footage shot by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency showed large swaths of the island with heavy damage, with roofs missing and debris scattered for hundreds of yards.

Henry added the country was "in a daze" with no electricity, running water or cellphone service.

Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm early Wednesday. It moved past the northeastern Dominican Republic on Thursday and was on track for the British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos.