‘Where are we supposed to go?’
For some displaced Abaco shantytown residents who lived through the recent horror of Hurricane Dorian’s wrath, the government’s announcement that they will not be able to rebuild where they once called home has compounded the pain.
But for others, they wish never to return.
The Guardian visited shelters on New Providence this week to speak with some of those displaced, many of them Haitian or of Haitian descent, and they told stories of loss and expressed fear and uncertainty about the future.
Ellen Pierre-Petit, 53, said she lived in The Mudd for 48 years.
Her last memories of it were witnessing her neighbors, friends and community members floating dead in floodwaters and buried under mounds of debris after the monster Category 5 storm pummeled Abaco and Grand Bahama two weeks ago.
Unlike Pierre-Petit and her family, they did not heed the warning to evacuate.
Holding back tears, she said The Mudd, the largest shantytown in Marsh Harbour, that had no legal electricity, water, sewerage or sanitation systems, was all she knew.
Pierre-Petit said she was hurt when she heard the government’s decision Sunday to ban erecting new buildings in that area.
“When we moved there, I was six years old. My mom had three kids in The Bahamas. One is older, I’m the second, and my younger brother is the third,” she said.
“We lived there like it was our hometown, and from then I never moved; but moving forward I don’t know what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go.”
A 48-year-old mother of four, who chose to remain anonymous, said: “We understand if they say we can’t build, but where are we supposed to go?
“You’re telling me not to build on that property, but you’re not suggesting where to go. We have children. There are plenty children that lived in The Mudd and Pigeon Peas. We can’t all live on the streets.”
She, along with many others, left Abaco with just the clothes on their backs.
“I went looking for somewhere to stay yesterday, and they told me I need to come up with a $1,500 deposit. I don’t have that kind of money right now,” she said.
Huguette Seme Medord, 57, said she also felt stung by the ban.
She said she has permanent residency in The Bahamas and was living in The Mudd since 1985.
After the storm, she tried to visit her daughter in Florida until she was able to get back on her feet.
However, she claimed American authorities turned her away at the airport.
Apart from losing everything, Medord said she is struggling to put the pieces of her life back together; a feat made more difficult by having to have one of her breasts removed due to a malignant tumor.
Before the storm she said she intended to have surgery in Florida.
Since coming to New Providence, she said she has received some medical attention, but not quite what she needs as doctors at the shelter were only able to give her pain killers.
“I don’t know what to do. This is going to be hard for people because we can’t stay in the shelter forever,” she said.
Success Jean, however, is determined to rebuild his life by any means necessary, even if it means severing ties with Abaco.
The 38-year-old father of four, who has been living in The Mudd for two years, said it does not matter if he is unable to build on that property.
He said he never liked living in The Mudd — a place he said he witnessed vanish before his eyes within five minutes.
He said as he rushed to pack his clothes and documents, he and his baby’s mother were almost trapped in their home because the storm’s wind jammed their bedroom door shut.
Jean said by the time he was able to open it, the wind knocked both of them into a nearby wall.
“I looked around and everything was gone,” he said.
Battling through six feet of water, debris and unable to see anything in front of him, Jean said he, along with his baby’s mother and his children, swam to the nearest place that provided shelter.
At this point, he said, he is happy to be alive.
And he doesn’t want to go back.
“I didn’t really like living there. Some people love The Mudd, but for me, it was always a temporary thing,” he said.
“It’s too crowded. People play loud music, and there’s cussing and fighting. It’s too loud. There’s no respect and no privacy. Everybody wants to do their own thing.
“I’m not saying that I’m happy for what happened because people died, but I don’t care if they’re not rebuilding The Mudd.”
The Mudd is no stranger to disasters. Over the years, the community has been plagued with a number of fires.
Last year, a fire ruined 55 structures in that community, pushing the Minnis administration to pledge the destruction of any new structures.
The government’s ban to rebuild shantytown communities came two weeks after Hurricane Dorian made landfall.
Three hundred shantytown residents were reported missing last week, according to the United Haitian Community Front.
Back in August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson granted an injunction, which blocked the government’s initial plan to demolish The Mudd and other unregulated communities across the country.
Last December, a survey by the Shantytown Action Task Force indicated that 80 percent of shantytown residents have some form of legal status to be in The Bahamas, and 20 percent are undocumented.