Hurricane Survivors Struggle to Start New Life in Bahamas

By Danica Coto | September 11, 2019

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,” 30-year-old Dimple Lightbourne 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, a 51-year-old resident of Treasure Cay, walked out of a small airport in Nassau with her daughter and other relatives late Monday afternoon 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, a 43-year-old 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 on Saturday night after a six-hour boat trip from Abaco and plan to fly to Florida on Wednesday, 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.”

“You try to keep your hopes up, but …,” she added, her voice trailing off as she shook her head.

The upheaval, however, 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.

Instead of starting school Monday, as had been scheduled before the Category 5 storm hit, Kayden spent the day accompanying his parents to the bank and a shelter as they prepared for the move to the U.S.

Also flying to Florida was 41-year-old Shaneka Russell, 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.

On Monday, she sat in a white plastic chair under a white plastic tarp as she waited for her 13-year-old son to arrive from Abaco.

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.

Lightbourne, the Abaco resident now in Nassau, 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.”

Associated Press writer Gonzalo Gaudenzi in Abaco contributed to this report.

About the photo: A Bahamas coroners team carries a body out of The Mudd neighborhood in the Marsh Harbor area of Abaco Island in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on Monday. Dorian, the most powerful hurricane in the northwestern Bahamas’ recorded history, has killed at least 44 people in Bahamas as of Sunday, Sept. 8, according to the government. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

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