A firsthand look at Abaco, one month after Dorian
When I boarded Bahamasair’s 0335 flight into Marsh Harbour, Abaco, on September 30, I had no idea what I was getting into.
I’d seen the pictures and the videos and I had heard the stories, but I hadn’t seen it for myself.
It was like a war zone.
Building after building. Business after business. All of them were reduced to rubble.
For miles and miles, the rubble stretched, pushed onto the side of the roads. A mixture of wood, concrete, shingles, nails and furniture lined the roads in the residential communities.
Large commercial buildings looked as if the waves of Hurricane Dorian had clawed out their innards and took them out to sea.
Having seen the devastation from Hurricane Joaquin on Long Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Crooked Island and Acklins in 2015 and the devastation of Hurricane Irma on Ragged Island in 2017, this was the worst.
Between September 1940 and May 1941, the Nazis conducted nighttime bombing raids against Britain during the height of World War II.
The blitzkrieg, better known as the Blitz, saw London bombed for 76 consecutive nights.
Nazi bombers, under the cover of darkness and a Britain that was unable to counter the German Luftwaffe, dropped bomb after bomb on London.
Thousands died and many more were injured. London was reduced to rubble.
On Abaco, it was as if the German Luftwaffe had moved through time and bombed Marsh Harbour into oblivion.
Hurricane Dorian had taken a once scenic island and reduced it to its very foundation.
The official death toll from the storm is 61, and some 400 are missing after Dorian smashed parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September. Thousands are homeless.
Those who remain on Abaco seem unfazed by the grim sights, the damp smell of mold and the constant struggle to survive. They are busy trying to pick up the pieces.
My aunt, Robertha Knowles, and her husband, Darin, survived Dorian but lost everything.
They escaped with the clothes on their backs and two cats.
Darin picked me up from the airport, welcomed me to the wasteland and took me to where I would spend the next three days.
It was a pink two-story building on the waterfront. Darin’s boss, the owner of Albury’s Ferry Service, told the couple to use his home until things settled.
It was battered. Parts of the roof were compromised. There was flood damage and when it rained water leaked inside. But a guest bedroom, the living room and the kitchen were unscathed. It was a sanctuary.
My aunt’s cats did not share that belief though. They preferred to stay in the ruins of their old home.
“They come at night for food and go back to the place,” Darin said.
Darin was busy; he was coordinating ferry rides from Marsh Harbour to Hope Town and Man-O-War Cay. My aunt hopes to get a new food truck so she can provide meals to the remaining residents on the island.
After settling in, I headed into Marsh Harbour. Snappers and Colors by the Sea, two well-known restaurants in the settlement, were wiped away, like many buildings on the waterfront.
In Little Orchard, I met Barbara Johnson scavenging for precious photos and other personal items in the ruins of her home.
Perry Thomas in Royal Harbour told me that he wasn’t abandoning Abaco.
He planned to put a trailer next to his home and rebuild.
Julie Wallace in Dundas Town was searching for hope. She was enjoying the time off from work, she told me, but she was worried about the future.
Her nine-year-old son was a month behind in school.
She had no income and was depending on the goodwill of others.
“Mama always used to tell us plan for hard times,” she said.
“[These are] hard times right here. When people come around and they give food and stuff we look out for each other. So, I’m here and there is a next guy across the way and my brother up on the hill. So, we just tell them where they [are] so they go and carry stuff to them.”
Residents told me they were worried about continued looting, a lack of government assistance and the possible return of thousands of Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians to an island that had no housing.
Nowhere to go
Despite the devastation, the Knowles’ temporary home had running water, a generator, a stove, a refrigerator, an icemaker and Wi-Fi.
We ate homemade spaghetti with baked bread my first night and eggs and bacon on my second night.
On October 1, I ventured to Treasure Cay to the Sand Banks shantytown and the New Mission Haitian Baptist Church.
Some 10 people were inside the church; many were anxious about their future in The Bahamas.
No one was inside Sand Banks when I walked throughout the area.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis visited Marsh Harbour the next day and ordered that Sand Banks, home to some 200 or so people, be torn down.
He kicked down the back door of one of the few remaining structures.
I pointed out to the prime minister that the remaining residents on Abaco are ready to rebuild.
“We have enough food and water,” one person told me.
“Now we need building supplies now.”
Minnis was unable to say when that process – the distribution of building materials – would occur.
Regardless, residents of Abaco face a long road to recovery.
Perhaps the most striking level of destruction on Abaco were the shantytowns known as The Mudd and Pigeon Peas. The area, usually covered by a dense network of overgrown weeds, was exposed.
The homes are gone. A patchwork of roofs, walls, front doors and other debris are in the center of the area. At the entrance to the shantytown are the foundations of several buildings. On them sit destroyed personal items – an iPod, a bicycle, a watch, pots, an old X Box.
There is a stench in the community though. A stench found nowhere else on Abaco: death.
“When they start moving those containers and digging up the debris, they’re going to find more bodies,” Amos Weatherford told me.
Two bodies were found in Pigeon Peas the next day.
Residents concerned about looting, building supplies