Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Petite Savanne

I was quite fortunate when Tropical Storm Erika struck this island last August, as I wrote about in this blog post (plus this follow-up story). Aside from losing communication with the outside world for a few days, no one in my village was ever in any real danger. However, one of the hardest hit areas in Dominica was the village of Petite Savanne in the southeastern portion of the island. The landslides and flooding there destroyed about 60% of the housing in that area, and most of the thirty or so deaths in Dominica from Tropical Storm Erika occurred in Petite Savanne.

The steep, rugged terrain and unstable soils in that area has led the government to declare Petite Savanne uninhabitable, and the surviving residents were forced to evacuate. Thus the government is providing a relocation and resettlement program for Petite Savanne's survivors. The government is officially abandoning rather than rebuilding the infrastructure for this remote village, which at one time had nearly 1000 residents. I'm sure it was a difficult and controversial decision for the government to make.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Petite Savanne for the first time. It was a long trip over winding roads to get there. Not having seen this village in its prime made it difficult to fully appreciate the devastation that Tropical Storm Erika had imposed. However, it was still easy to see—even nine months later—much of the destruction. The picture below shows the village in the distance from a hill above. Look closely and you can see evidence of multiple landslides on the far hillside.

Just getting to this place required passing by numerous landslides from the high, steep hills that at one time had cut off the roadway. As we neared the village, our vehicle had to pass over a makeshift bridge constructed from wooden logs—I was a bit nervous but we made it across with no problems.

Upon our arrival, we got out from the vehicle to explore on foot. There were a couple of Dominican Army soldiers there (wearing pistols—the first guns I've seen down here) to guard against looters, but they had no qualms against sight-seers. Below is a picture of the Petite Savanne Health Center, which appeared to still be in good shape, but has been abandoned in place, never to operate again.

We walked down to one of the several small streams that converge in this village before heading on to the Atlantic Ocean. The one pictured below is an example of how meek and docile streams can be here most of the time. However, if you look close, you can see at the bottom of the picture the edge of the street that was swept away. Across on the other side, the street picks up again, but a wide expanse of the street, and whatever small bridge had previously crossed this creek, were gone. There were likely a lot of houses—potentially on both sides of the creek—which have totally disappeared. It is obvious that during Erika, this little creek was a raging torrent, carrying numerous boulders and debris. Who knows how many residents of this area were among the dead?
Some of the abandoned houses were already succumbing to Mother Nature. This house has a thick growth of green vines in the backyard encroaching on the corrugated metal shed—perhaps the entire house will be covered in vines if I come back again later.
It reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time, entitled "The World Without Us." It is a non-fiction book written by Alan Weisman, which tells what would happen to our current environment if humans suddenly disappeared--how nature would take over what we left behind. In a sense, that is what is happening in Petite Savanne. Below is another picture which was taken behind a church where a bell tower stood next to what I assume to be a bathroom facility. Green vines are already “consuming” the large metal bell and its tower, as well as the iron gate to the small building. Nature is reclaiming what man has left behind. Man can overcome nature for a while, but nature is relentless, just as that book predicts.
However, not everyone is willing to let nature win this battle. Despite the government resettlement program, some residents of Petite Savanne are determined to return to this location. The government has made it clear that Petite Savanne is a dangerous locale for any storms, and they don't want to invest Dominica's limited dollars into an area that has such great potential for future disasters. Thus, there will be no public infrastructure rebuilt to support any residents here. That means no public water system, no electric, no cell phone towers, no trash service, no government health center, no road repairs, etc.

Yet on the day that I visited, there were about a dozen men who were rebuilding a small bridge over one of the other creeks (the smoke in the picture below is from the used cement bags they were burning). As you can tell, this is another normally small creek that ended up carrying massive boulders and debris down its path, clearing a wide swath of whatever was in its way.

These men were hard at work to create this crossing so that they could drive their vehicles over to the streets on the other side. They were not doing it for pay, but were banding together to work for their own interests.

One must really love a specific location to consider moving back to a place without any public infrastructure whatsoever—especially when the government has tried to set up an attractive resettlement program. Apparently, Petite Savanne is considered by some residents to be their home, regardless of the dangers or the inconveniences of choosing to live there.

Whether you call it determination or just plain stubbornness, I am impressed with their tenacity. Just organizing a dozen or so folks to help design and build a creek crossing is not easy. Their eventual goal of living once again in Petite Savanne, albeit this time with no government support or infrastructure, is even more difficult. Yet still these Dominicans persist—just like those green vines!

No comments:

Post a Comment