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One year after Erika

After spending all day selling souvenirs at Dominica’s Old Market Plaza in the capital, Roseau, Debbie Lewis would go home in the evening and her husband would soak her tired feet in warm water.

But for the past year, whenever she needed a foot soak she would have to do it herself, because he is no longer there. David ‘Billy’ Lewis was one of several victims of Tropical Storm Erika which struck in the early hours of August 27.

He and his brother, Clifton, were swept away by the raging river in Bath Estate River, located just outside of Roseau. They were at Clifton’s house in Bath Estate when they disappeared. One year later, they remain unaccounted for.

Billy Lewis (right) and his brother Clifton disappeared in the storm. (courtesy DNO)

Billy Lewis (right) and his brother Clifton disappeared in the storm. (courtesy DNO)

“The only thing I know is that I heard it over the radio that my husband went down the river,” Lewis’ widow told Barbados TODAY.

“And nobody ever tell me exactly how it really happened. Not even his brother’s wife and children. They were there. I wasn’t there. When that happened I was at my house in Kingshill and it’s over the radio I heard it,” she added.

The Bath Estate River caused severe damage in the community during the storm.

The Bath Estate River caused severe damage in the community during the storm.

The southern community of Petite Savanne was one of several cut off from the rest of the island.

The southern community of Petite Savanne was one of several cut off from the rest of the island.

And without her husband’s body, Debbie is struggling to find closure.

“The government said that to declare them dead we have to wait seven years…It’s like every day I’m thinking of him and wondering why it happened. I haven’t really gotten over it. I have his pictures, I just watch him, talk to him,” she said.

At the time of his disappearance, Lewis, 51, was a driver and messenger at the Ministry of Tourism – a job he held for 18 years before his death. His widow began receiving some financial assistance from government in May this year.

The memories of their 30-year relationship have helped Debbie cope over the past year.

“Billy and I were in love for a long while.  And his smile, his laugh, the joy that he would bring to my life, all that…I always tell people Billy was my world, he was everything to me,” she said.

Debbie told Barbados TODAY they got married two years ago, but neither of them ever imagined that the union would be short-lived.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, I don’t call his name. Sometimes I would tell my mother I wish Billy was here, how he would do, where we would go. Like certain times I would stay home, when I watch the moon I would say ‘If Billy was there we would be outside all now’….

“He used to drive me all about.  He wanted me to go back for my licence and I would tell him I would prefer him to drive me because I like him driving me around…like I know I have a chauffeur I can depend on. And I know Billy was somebody I could depend on, I could rely on him for anything,” she said.

Debbie is just one of the many remembering loved ones who were lost when Tropical Storm Erika dumped six inches of rain on the island, triggering floods and landslides.

Erika claimed 31 lives, destroyed up to 500 homes and left EC $1 billion bill in infrastructural damage. Several communities were also cut off from the rest of the island.

In an address to the nation earlier today, Prime Minister Skerrit said Dominica is on course to rebuild better, with greater emphasis to be placed on environmental issues.

“The process of rebuilding is not one that can be rushed and the reality is that replacing and rebuilding the entire damaged infrastructure and resettling displaced persons is a mammoth task.

“This Government is determined to build a stronger more resilient Dominica. This concept will be applied to our construction practices, and very importantly, to architectural and engineering designs. There will be greater emphasis placed on environmental issues and this will be appropriately reflected in our overall national land use policy,” Skerrit said.

The government has declared August 27 and 28 National Days Of Prayer in memory of those who died in the storm. Skerrit also reiterated his government’s plans to erect a monument to honour the victims of Erika “once we have returned a greater sense of normality to the lives of those displaced and most affected”.

“Infrastructural damage can be repaired and, indeed, our surroundings can and will be made better than before. But the emotional impact of Tropical Storm Erika shall forever be with us.

 “Those who died have left a void that can never be filled. I believe it is incumbent upon us to intercede unceasingly on their behalf, and to celebrate their lives,” the Prime Minister said.


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