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SA President Shares Pain from Caribbean Island Ruins

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What Jerlisa Fontaine described as an aura of positive energy from her Caribbean birth-nation has disappeared.

Fontaine referenced a cell phone video taken from a family friend in Dominica taken post-Hurricane Maria. In the video, a village is torn apart. Pieces of splintered wood and tossed chattels lie on the street. For her, it’s not recognizable from her last visit in 2014.

“That’s scary for me,” she said. “To know that my family survived is great but to know that they’re living in this kind of distress is scary because they weren’t living like this two days ago or three days ago.”

After Hurricane Maria hit Dominica on Sep. 18, Fontaine lost communication with some of her immediate family members back on the island.

She still hasn’t heard back from one of her uncles.

Due to the island’s limited electricity in the aftermath of the Maria, direct relatives called her father, Desmond, to alert other family members. With her cramped class schedule and work as Student Association president, Fontaine is considered a less reliable contact to get in touch with.

It wasn’t until Thursday that week which she began to hear about her family’s status.

“When I tell you — I felt like, ‘Wow,’” Fontaine described hearing from her father talk about her immediate family’s safety in Dominica. “I had a full tank in me and it was just like, ‘Wooo.’”

Fontaine, who has traveled to the island three times since moving to the Bronx early on, doesn’t know when she will return. Her father, Desmond, had his plans for an October trip cut last month due to the storm.

For Dominiquais, the devastation still follows. Three weeks following the storm, over 50 people remain missing; the official death toll is 27; thousands are without electricity or water. To counter the destruction, the United Nations released a $31 million emergency appeal.

Dominica was one of six islands hit by Hurricane Maria: Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Saint. Martin, and Barbuda. Some of the islands were already battered by Hurricane Irma.

Fontaine believes the wreckage has been overshadowed by more populated islands. Dominica has a population of 72,000.

“When you compare Dominica to Puerto Rico and Haiti, my scare and my fear for Dominica is that we’re not a famous island,” she said.

In an effort to grow support for the island,  Fontaine launched a month-long SA Dominica relief drive. Along with the drive a week after the hurricane, Fontaine plans to host several Dominica relief events throughout her term.


Tyler A. McNeil is the current managing editor for the Albany Student Press. The Capital Region native previously served as managing editor for The Hudsonian, and as an intern for the Times Union and Capital Tonight.

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