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Sturgeon Falls couple Moe and Lynn (Cockburn) Ouellette were thrilled and relieved to be hugging their daughter and grandkids, Sara Ouellette Subero and little Sadiel and Skyla, recently rescued after a harrowing six days trapped on the devastated island of Dominica. The young family’s eco-retreat and home were completely destroyed by hurricane Maria, which they miraculously managed to escape without injury.
The past several days have been a roller coaster of anxiety, confusion, desperation, elation, crashing hopes, and finally a fantastic rescue that soothed the bruised hearts and souls of many people in West Nipissing, the friends and family of Lynn (Cockburn) and Moe Ouellette. Their daughter Sara and her husband, Stephan Subero, along with their two babies, 5-year-old Skyla and 18-month-old Sadiel, were pummelled with 257km/hr winds and torrential rains by category-5 hurricane Maria on September 18-19 at their hillside eco-retreat on Dominica island in the Caribbean.
Days went by without word. Fears mounted. There was a frantic effort, which was closely watched on social media, as Lynn made contact with dozens of international friends trying to coordinate rescue efforts. The Suberos suffered total loss of their home, their business; their dream wiped out in the space of four hours of terror. But they are alive – and grateful. Sara is now in Sturgeon Falls with her children, while Stephan has remained behind to salvage what he can, to care for the animals, to help his community.
Still in a state of shock, Sara and her parents kindly allowed the Tribune into their home so she could share her story. She’s had over 400 messages from friends and family, but was still overwhelmed and unable to respond to everyone. She arrived Sunday, Sept. 24. “I can’t believe we’re already here – yesterday when we arrived… it’s been amazing the kindness of people in this community. Before we even unpacked, a truck arrived with things for the children – it’s like Christmas for them.”
Sara continued, “My husband [Stephan] was born in Trinidad, raised in Venezuela, so we got relief from both countries. They arrived at the same time with two helicopters. It was so surreal! So lovely, and we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know who to go with. We ended up going with Venezuela because they guaranteed us we’d go to St. Lucia. They airlifted us to St. Lucia that evening.”
“Stephan knew he couldn’t come to Canada because he didn’t have a visa, and there was no point in going to Trinidad all alone. We have cats and a dog and goats and he wanted to stay back and take care of the animals. And as the rescue was happening, some people came up. People are very desperate right now; they were starting to steal some of our things, so he wanted to stay back and protect what we have left.”
It’s estimated that 80-90% of the buildings on the island of Dominica have been damaged and many of its 72,000 inhabitants have been left homeless. Many are still in a state of bewildered shock at the sheer savagery of this disaster – Dominica’s first category 5 storm in recorded history. Dominica’s gorgeous mountain and rainforest landscape, which helped put it on the tourist map, has been a bit of a curse in the efforts to deliver emergency aid to villages totally cut off due to collapsed roads and bridges. The latest reports state 27 lives have been lost, with scores more still missing. Sara said that her friends reported hearing shots fired in the capital Roseau when they finally made it out.