Vermont couple sends ham radios to Dominica

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CRAFTSBURY, Vt. (WCAX) Imagine going days, weeks and even months before knowing if your family and friends are alive? That's a reality still on the island of Dominica. Vermonter Brian Machesney is heading there Sunday to hopefully make a change before another storm hits the Caribbean again.

"There were times that I would be sitting here and I just wanted to cry," said Machesney's wife, Michelle Guenard.

It's a feeling that many people felt when Hurricane Maria tumbled through the Caribbean. But feeling helpless did not stop this Vermont couple from doing something monumental.

Machesney and his wife visit the island of Dominica every year since 2009 and have many friends there. He has a background in ham radio and was most recently at the island 11 months ago, teaching college students how it works. Luckily, he was able to talk to the few volunteers on the island knowledgeable of the technology after the storm hit.

"Only some of the major population centers had radios, whereas the smaller villages were entirely cut off for the lack of a ham radio or operator," explained Machesney.

Simultaneously, Guenard had a Facebook page set up just hours before the storm rolled in. Once communication was somewhat established, she began sharing live feeds from ham radio communications on the island.

"There were so many people waiting to hear from family, we went from nobody to 100,000 people listening in," said Guenard.

The Craftsbury couple realized if they had this much anxiety waiting to hear from friends, imagine how the people on the island felt. It triggered an idea and a Gofundme page to provide more reliability. They say they raised $30,000 to get radio equipment and build a better network for the island. It will provide local, regional and a worldwide network in hopes that the technology will spread to other islands left in the dark.

Machesney expects to be in Dominica for at least a month setting up the radios and doing more training for volunteers.