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What it looks like when a Category 5 hurricane flattens your island overnight

Kayla Rognlie
Dominica after Hurricane Maria.
By Elisabeth Ponsot
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

When Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the Caribbean island of Dominica last month, residents fled to the safest corners they could find. They huddled in bathrooms, squeezed into cabinets, camped out in shelters—going anywhere they could to get away from shaking windows, rising floodwaters, and projectile debris.

Ashley White spent the night alone in her bedroom closet, with a lantern and a book, trying not to think about the 160 mph winds raging outside her apartment.

The next morning, the 32-year-old American took her first look outside since the storm began. “My jaw dropped,” she says. The formerly lush landscape she had come to love over three years on her “island home” was unrecognizable.

Kayla Rognlie
Dominica after Maria.

“It just was insane to look out and see complete brown—no more green, anywhere,” she says. “The trees were stripped bare. Debris everywhere. Telephone poles down. Wires everywhere. Roofing materials from houses a mile away, scattered across the road. Massive boats on the shore that weren’t there the day before. It was something that I never expected, and did not feel ready for.”

Photographs from before and after the storm hit show the scope of the damage sustained by the commonwealth of Dominica, a small dot on the map in the Caribbean Sea that is home to more than 73,000 people.

White, who works in student development for Ross University School of Medicine, located in the town of Portsmouth on the island’s north end, spoke to Quartz by phone from her parent’s home in Pennsylvania. She was evacuated a week after the hurricane along with more than 1,300 students, faculty, and staff affiliated with the school. She is still waiting to learn where she will be sent to finish out the semester. “They’ve basically just told us to hang tight,” she says.

Ashley White
White’s office on Ross University’s campus after Maria hit.

In a public address on Oct. 4, Dominica’s prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit said he was committed to getting the Ross campus back up and running as a top priority, and hoped classes could restart as early as January of next year. “Progress is being made one day at a time,” he said.

Locals in Dominica are currently raising money for recovery efforts through a YouCaring fund. The government is also accepting donations through the website

White feels buoyed by reports that the school will reopen on the island. Ultimately, she wants to return to Dominica “because of the people,” she says. “It’s just amazing the amount of resilience that they have and the fact that, many of them even though they could evacuate, they refuse to leave,” she says. ”That sense of community, that would make me want to go back.”

Some of the photos here were taken by Kayla Rognlie, who also lives on Dominica, and is currently raising money for recovery efforts.

Ashley White
A US state department helicopter arrives to evacuate residents after Maria.

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