Tiny Dominica calls for help after Hurricane Maria

(AFP) – The tiny Caribbean island of Dominica appealed for desperately-needed aid and helicopters following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, which left the country struggling to survive without water or electricity.

The island largely lost communications with the outside world after Maria plowed into it on Monday as a maximum-strength Category Five hurricane packing winds of 160 miles per hour (257 kilometers per hour).

At least 15 people were killed on the island, with six deaths elsewhere in the Caribbean as the storm continued its destructive path north on Friday.

“For now our urgent, urgent matter is to get supplies to the affected people. We’re going to need all of the helicopter help we can get, because we need to ferry the supplies to people,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Thursday.

AFP aerial footage showed debris from damaged buildings scattered across the island of 72,000 people and many structures with their roofs ripped off. Trees were snapped in half or ripped out of the ground.

Some streets were so filled with debris — including splintered tree branches and sheets of corrugated metal — that they were impassable.

Residents were busy shoveling mud out of their homes and businesses, while laundry was hung out to dry on the frames of half-destroyed homes and along downed utility cables.

In a neighborhood of candy-colored houses, families were cooking on makeshift stoves fashioned out of cinder blocks and rocks, fueled by wood scraps.

The neighboring French island of Martinique and the South American country of Guyana have dispatched a team of 68 firefighters to Dominica, said Patrick Amoussou-Adeble, secretary-general of Martinique.

“We have carried out a survey by helicopter to assess the situation. We have a naval ship that will supply 40 tons of water to the victims,” he said.

Skerrit said that with hurricanes becoming ever stronger, “we really need, all of us, to understand that these issues are of greater concern to small islands like ours.”

“We are very very vulnerable,” he said.

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