Hur­ri­cane sur­vivors strug­gle to start anew

Ba­hamas: Thou­sands need food, wa­ter, shel­ter af­ter Do­rian

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Danica Coto

NASSAU, Ba­hamas — Thou­sands of hur­ri­cane sur­vivors are fil­ing off boats and planes in the cap­i­tal of the Ba­hamas, fac­ing the prospect of start­ing their lives over but with lit­tle idea of how or where to even be­gin.

A week af­ter Hur­ri­cane Do­rian laid waste to their homes, some sat in ho­tel lob­bies as they tried to fig­ure out their next step. Oth­ers were taken by bus to shel­ters jammed to ca­pac­ity. Some got rides from friends or fam­ily who of­fered a tem­po­rary place to stay.

“No one de­serves to go through this,” Dim­ple Light­bourne, 30, said, blink­ing away tears.

Do­rian dev­as­tated the Ba­hamas’ Abaco and Grand Ba­hama is­lands, leav­ing at least 50 dead, with the toll cer­tain to rise as the search for bod­ies goes on.

Light­bourne’s mother, Carla Fer­gu­son, 51, a resident of Treasure Cay, walked out of a small air­port in Nassau with her daugh­ter and other rel­a­tives late Mon­day and looked around as the sun set.

“We don’t know where we’re go­ing to stay,” she said. “We don’t know.”

Fer­gu­son and her fam­ily had one large duf­fel bag and three plas­tic stor­age boxes, most of them stuffed with do­nated clothes they re­ceived be­fore leav­ing their tiny, dev­as­tated is­land.

The govern­ment has es­ti­mated that up to 10,000 peo­ple from the Abaco is­lands alone, in­clud­ing Treasure Cay, will need food, wa­ter and tem­po­rary hous­ing. Of­fi­cials are con­sid­er­ing set­ting up tent or con­tainer ci­ties while they clear the coun­try’s rav­aged north­ern re­gion of de­bris so peo­ple can even­tu­ally re­turn.

Get­ting back to Abaco is the dream of Betty Ed­mond, 43, a cook who picked at some fries with her son and hus­band in a restau­rant at a Nassau ho­tel, where her nephew is pay­ing for their stay.

They ar­rived in Nassau af­ter a six-hour boat trip from Abaco and plan to fly to Florida, thanks to plane tick­ets bought by friends who will pro­vide them a tem­po­rary home un­til they can find jobs. But the goal is to re­turn, Ed­mond said.

“Home will al­ways be home,” she said. “Ev­ery day you wish you could go back.”

The up­heaval was ex­cit­ing to her 8-year-old son, Kay­den Mon­es­time, who said he was look­ing for­ward to go­ing to a mall, Mc­Don­ald’s and Foot Locker.

Also fly­ing to Florida was Shaneka Rus­sell, 41, who owned Smacky’s Take­away, a take­out restau­rant known for its cracked conch. The restau­rant, named af­ter the noises her son made as a baby, was destroyed by Do­rian.

Rus­sell said good Sa­mar­i­tans had taken her and a group of peo­ple into their home over the week­end and found them a ho­tel room in Nassau for a cou­ple of days.

“To know that we were go­ing to a ho­tel, with elec­tric­ity and air con­di­tion­ing and a proper shower, I cried,” she said.

Mem­bers of the Gainesvill­e, Florida, fire depart­ment searched for bod­ies in the ruins of The Mudd, a shan­ty­town that was the Ba­hamas’ largest Haitian im­mi­grant com­mu­nity on Great Abaco. Its ply­wood homes were torn to pieces by Do­rian.

“We’ve prob­a­bly hit, at most, one-tenth of this area, and so far we found five hu­man re­mains,” said Joseph Hill­house, as­sis­tant chief of Gainesvill­e Fire Res­cue. “I would say based off of our sam­ple size, we’re go­ing to see more.”

The huge de­bris piles left by the storm are chal­leng­ing for search and re­cov­ery teams, which can­not use bull­doz­ers or other heavy equip­ment to search for the dead. That makes re­cov­ery and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion a slow process.

Carl Smith, a spokesman for the Ba­hamas’ Na­tional Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, said that over 2,000 peo­ple were in shel­ters across New Prov­i­dence is­land, where Nassau is sit­u­ated, and that some were at ca­pac­ity, but added: “There’s not re­ally a cri­sis.” He said the govern­ment will open other shel­ters as needed.

But 35-year- old Julie Green and her hus­band and six chil­dren — in­clud­ing 7-month-old twins — were hav­ing prob­lems find­ing a place to stay. Green said shel­ter of­fi­cials told her they couldn’t ac­cept such young chil­dren.

“We’re just ex­hausted,” she said. “We’re just walk­ing up and down ask­ing peo­ple if they know where we can stay.”

Sadye Fran­cis, di­rec­tor of a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, said un­met needs are grow­ing. “There are still oth­ers that have nowhere to go,” she said. “The true depth of the dev­as­ta­tion in Abaco and Grand Ba­hama is still un­fold­ing.”

Light­bourne said she couldn’t wait to es­cape the dis­as­ter Do­rian left be­hind.

“I don’t want to see the Ba­hamas for a while. It’s stress­ful,” she said. “I want to go to Amer­ica. This is a new chap­ter. I’ve ripped all the pages out. Just give me a new book to fill out.”

FER­NANDO LLANO/AP

Dim­ple Light­bourne, left, and her mother, Carla Fer­gu­son, sit in a plane Mon­day as it ap­proaches to land in Nassau af­ter they were evac­u­ated from Abaco Is­land, in the Ba­hamas.

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