Alive but lost: In Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian survivors wonder what next
MARSH HARBOUR/NASSAU, Bahamas: Days after fleeing their crumbling home and breaking into a vacant apartment to take shelter while Hurricane Dorian rampaged over the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island, Samuel Cornish and his family caught a rescue flight to Nassau.
Asked what waited for him there, Cornish, a pastor’s son was blunt: “Nothing,” he said. “Just a new life.”
By Sunday, a week after one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record plowed into the archipelago nation of 400,000 people, the capital city faced a wave of thousands of evacuees fleeing hard-hit areas including Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, where some 90% of the infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.
Great Abaco is littered with mounds of unused construction materials, waterlogged notebooks and Bibles, stained piles of tattered clothes, single shoes, overturned bath tubs and rotting mattresses. Dead cats and dogs are strewn throughout the wreckage while some stray animals are digging through the garbage for food and have taken up residence on the porches of destroyed homes. At least one wild pig weathered the storm, celebrating its survival by charging at two Reuters journalists.
Bahamian officials are still pulling bodies from the wreckage across the island and acknowledge that the current official death toll of 43 is likely to rise markedly.
Some 70,000 people in need of food and shelter, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme’s estimate. Interviews with evacuees this week shone light on the extent of Dorian’s destruction. Survivors avoided death, but have lost homes, jobs and hospitals.
“Home is more than four walls and a roof — it’s the neighborhood where people live, their friends and neighbors, their livelihoods, comfort, and security for the future. Losing all these things at once is heartbreaking,” said Jenelle Eli, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, which is helping with the relief. “People are concerned about their next step, but also how they’ll earn an income and what their lives will look like in the future.”
Bahamian officials acknowledged on Saturday that Nassau will strain to house all the people that need shelter.
Some institutions that had opened their doors as a place for people to ride out the storm are now trying to clear out people who have lost homes, Leonardo Cargill, of the island’s Department of Social Services, told a Saturday evening news conference.
“They now understand that the people coming in, it will be long-term sheltering, and many of them are church facilities and they cannot allow that to go on,” Cargill said.
TENT CITIES POSSIBLE
That has Nassau officials considering other options.
“We can look at the tent city concept and the container city concept, these are all support mechanisms to help us,” Captain Stephen Russell, who heads the National Emergency Management Agency, told a news conference. “Jobs may be a challenge at this time but long term we can house them.”
International aid was also pouring into the island nation.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy were shipping in relief supplies and the U.S. Agency for International Development said it was allocating $2.8 million and had moved enough emergency supplies for 44,000 people to the islands.
The American Red Cross said it had committed an initial $2 million to help the Bahamas recover from the hurricane, with food, water and shelter and other necessities.
Norwegian energy company Equinor said on Sunday it will clean up an onshore oil spill discovered this week at its Bahamas storage terminal in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
The long-lived storm had made its way to Canada by Sunday, where the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was a still-powerful post-tropical cyclone with 80 mile-per-hour (130 km-per-hour) winds. It was forecast to cross western Newfoundland later Sunday.
Many in hard-hit Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco complained that aid had been too slow in arriving.
“They haven’t done a thing to help us down here,” shouted Tepeto Davis, a 37-year-old tile contractor who slammed on the brakes of his pickup truck and backed up to talk to reporters. “We are suffering out here and no one cares about us. We’ve had to funnel gasoline out of destroyed cars to get injured people back and forth. There’s no gas, there’s no food, no medicine, and no water.”
And those who were receiving aid in Nassau worried that they were still a long way from being able to rebuild their lives.
“The government says everyone’s being fed, and that’s good,” said Anthony Morley, 61, who fled Marsh Harbour and was staying at Breezes, a Nassau resort where local volunteers have subsidized rooms for survivors. “But for food I can fish. What I need is a house. I don’t have a bed, a refrigerator. I don’t even have a Bible.”