'Paradise has been turned to hell': Residents, aid workers in Bahamas deal with Dorian devastation
TREASURE CAY, Bahamas — Food, water and other humanitarian aid began pouring onto Abaco Island on Saturday as private pilots and charter companies ferried in supplies and carried out hurricane survivors.
Hurricane Dorian destroyed or heavily damaged what appears to be the majority of homes on Abaco, from Marsh Harbor to the Treasure Cay marina area, leveling entire neighborhoods and leaving thousands of people without shelter.
“Some people lost their lives. Some people lost everything they had,” said Cooper’s Town resident Kevin Pritchard, 44.
Formal disaster response efforts by the Bahamian government and US-based rescue took days to begin, as teams waited for government permission to bring in doctors and equipment, gas, chainsaws and generators.
The hurricane destroyed the island’s power grid and halted cell phone service for all but a few people near a battered government building in Marsh Harbour, complicating relief efforts, which were largely being conducted via satellite phone.
“We need generators, we need fuel. We’re going to be without power for a long time,” said Darnika Farrington, 32, as a military vehicle driven by British commandos rumbled past.
The hurricane destroyed Farrington’s house, and she found a bed at her grandmother’s undamaged home.
At Treasure Key Airport, hundreds of survivors awaited evacuation by plane, most sitting in the sun without shelter or toilets. Some had waited for days for a flight to Nassau; many island residents are Haitians who lack documentation to travel to the United States and were reluctant to leave the Bahamas for fear they could not return.
Saturday afternoon the airport was buzzing with helicopters and small planes as American pilots flew in supplies. Gary Freiberger flew over from Fort Lauderdale to help the island he’s been visiting since 1980.
He looked around at the destroyed terminal building and flipped-over baggage carts and said he felt compelled to help people he’s known for decades.
“It’s my time to give back,” he said.
In wealthier areas of the island, the storm tore off roofs, leaving air conditioners dangling, and ripped open garages. Boats were jammed onto docks or front lawns, and cars buried beneath downed palm trees. Poorer areas were simply leveled, the simple houses flattened by the wind, leaving behind rubble and kitchen stoves.
Saturday, members of the U.S-based EMPACT Northwest nonprofit urban search-and-rescue team began checking buildings in the Treasure Cay marina area, carefully walking across nail-studded boards of homes turned inside out by the wind.
They were joined by Team Rubicon and Hearts & Hands Disaster Recovery, assisted by companies like Tropic Ocean Airways, which was using float planes to reach more remote areas. Chef Jose Andres and his team from World Central Kitchen were flying in hot meals for survivors and rescue workers alike, and the number of doctors ready to treat patients was growing.
On the island itself, sanitation was rapidly becoming a concern. While flights were bringing in bottled water, islanders needed much larger amounts for bathing and flushing toilets. And anyone driving around the island risked multiple flat tires from the debris, and gas was in short supply. Rescue teams siphoned gas from the tanks of abandoned cars not already emptied by residents.
“Oh my goodness. It’s hard to see the Lord’s plans in this,” said Mark Baker, 46, as he navigated a golf cart through the debris-clogged streets of his neighborhood. Baker, who owns a construction company in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, said he’s seen similar damage on church missions in Haiti. This is different, he said, because his family has been visiting Treasure Cay for decades, and usually spends Thanksgiving there.
“I have a suspicion we won’t make it this year,” said Baker, who flew down after the storm to check on his condo and boat.
Miraculously, his condo was virtually untouched by the storm, which piled sailboats onto the lawn and flipped others over at the marina. None of his windows were damaged. So with a little ingenuity, two generators and a modified extension cable, Baker had his lights, ceiling fans and even his ice maker working by Friday night.
“Our little piece of paradise has been turned to hell,” he said. “Hopefully it’s temporary,”