According to a report provided by the Department of Social Services to Perspective at our request, 6,469 adults and 2,343 children — a total of 8,812 residents — were displaced on Grand Bahama due to Hurricane Dorian’s destruction of homes spanning from the east to the west of the island.
This figure, as of October 17, is based on 2,463 assessments conducted on the island, and when factoring in those who would have left the island in the immediate aftermath of the storm and have yet to return, the level of displacement is upward of approximately 20 percent of the island’s population.
This startling statistic speaks to significant post-disaster challenges as many are living in temporary tents with no area electricity and sewerage, while many hundreds more are living in damaged structures they cannot afford to repair.
Others whose homes were flooded and are unable to afford necessary electrical repairs to have their homes re-engerized are still living in darkness two months after Dorian.
While hurricane damage on the island impacted people of all socioeconomic groups, a large number of those affected are within Grand Bahama’s lower to lower-middle income brackets who can least afford to recover from the storm’s devastating impact.
In Dorian’s aftermath, many displaced victims moved in with family and friends but “based on the severity of the problems in returning to their homes”, social services is receiving a growing number of requests for rental assistance, according to the report.
Approximately 500 applications for rental assistance on the island are currently being processed, wherein the Department has approved $700 a month for three months — a timeframe that will almost certainly need to be extended for many recipients at the end of that three-month period.
Calls for the provision of safe temporary housing solutions on Grand Bahama are ramping up as weeks stretch to months, most especially by those who have no home left to repair.
On Abaco, a family relief center is being constructed to house displaced residents in dome homes for a period of two years as reconstruction is envisioned there.
But on Grand Bahama the plans and timeframe for state-sponsored reconstruction initiatives and modular housing appear less defined.
At a town meeting for residents of east Grand Bahama to update them on restoration plans moving forward, area MP and Finance Minister Peter Turnquest said, “There is a proposal for some dome type homes…We are looking at those.
“The first shipment is going to Abaco and we hope to be able to get some of them here in Grand Bahama as soon as they can manufacture them, so hopefully within the next three to four weeks we should have those homes here and people can then transition out of these tents and go into these more comfortable, sturdier structures while they work on completing their forever home.”
But when we questioned Disaster Preparedness Minister Iram Lewis, who was not present at the meeting, on plans for these homes for Grand Bahama or whether there were plans to create a family relief center on the island, he advised that there were no such plans.
“We are identifying homes in the inventory of the Ministry of Housing as well as other properties in Grand Bahama to be either used as temporary or permanent housing,” Lewis responded, adding that the protocols governing who will qualify for these housing options were “still being finalized”.
We subsequently questioned Lewis on the progress of identifying available inventory and on how soon suitable homes or apartments might be ready for occupancy, but no response was provided up to press time.
“We need building supplies”
A primary cause of frustration in Dorian’s wake is while those in need of assistance are being told what they cannot and should not do when rebuilding and working with international NGOs on alternative housing solutions, they are not being given a clear plan to map out what they can do to get their lives and families back together in their communities.
Residents in east Grand Bahama are being told of the potential for new zoning and building codes in the storm’s aftermath but the timelines are uncertain, leaving them in limbo as to how to move forward with their desire to rebuild and what their living conditions will be in the meantime.
“The biggest setback for residents is funds,” Albacore Construction owner John Gallagher pointed out in an interview with us on the challenges that exist as Grand Bahamians seek to move into a phase of reconstruction.
“A lot of them have had their homes processed by the insurance company only to find out they aren’t covered for this and they aren’t [covered] for that, so money is a big factor.”
According to the social services report, 340 of the homes assessed were destroyed and 1,529 sustained major damage, with 556 having suffered minor damage.
The lack of ability to repair or rebuild one’s home was a principal concern put forward by residents at the recent town meeting, but the response they received triggered anger among many in attendance.
Florence Neilly, a homeowner in the “Lady Lake” section of the Lincoln Green subdivision in Freeport stressed, “every house through there was touched, including mine; all the windows and doors are out, the roof is compromised and the plywood is starting to rot.”
In a comment directed to Turnquest, she continued, “We need some quick action. I don’t know when the building materials are going to start to come in and to be distributed but some of us are really in some terrible positions and relief needs to come right now.”
To this, Turnquest answered, “We live in a hurricane zone, ladies and gentlemen. That means that we have to be responsible and protect ourselves as best we can.
“It is unreasonable to expect that your neighbor is going to bare the cost of you not insuring your home,” he argued. “When you do not insure your home, you naturally want to turn to the state for help. Well, the state can only help through the resources it has available to it — tax dollars that it collects from everybody.”
Given that considerations about home insurance would be relevant for the future and would have no bearing on assistance for damage that has already taken place, and given that home insurance is out of the financial reach of a good number of residents, the response was met with upset as attendees began to raise their voices in protest with a few walking out of the venue.
For those who do not have insurance, Turnquest then pledged that the government “will do its best” to provide assistance.
As to the arrival of building supplies to assist homeowners in need, the minister’s explanation appeared perplexing to several in attendance.
“When those building materials will hit the island is depending on a whole bunch of factors,” he noted. “Right now there [are] about 100 containers on this island stuffed with food that we need to clear out and those containers keep coming every day.
“They are backing up 97 containers that are sitting in Florida trying to get on a boat to come to Grand Bahama including some building supplies,” Turnquest explained. “So the logistics of getting building materials to the island is a challenge. We just don’t have enough boats to get them here.”
For some residents who lost all they had in Dorian or who are otherwise seeking help to repair their homes, it was not the kind of update they hoped to receive.
“I didn’t hear what I expected to hear,” McLean’s Town resident Ricardo Ingraham told us.
“If a person says to you ‘our house has been damaged and we need some help’ and you are gonna tell the people ‘your house should have been insured’, that’s hard and very immature.
“You have people on old age pension, it is hard for them to afford to insure their house,” he insisted.
“I live in McLean’s Town and we were totally devastated and we need help right now. People are in tents but those tents are not safe. You don’t need a hammer; you can go in with a knife and just slit the tent and take whatever you want — even take a life.”
Donald Thomas of McLean’s Town stressed that, “It ain’t all about food and water at this point. You need materials to help these people get back on track.
“Some of these people are going to go to their grave in couple years if they don’t get help just grieving over what they had,” he opined. “My uncle lost everything and my roof is gone [so] my roof will get fixed first but what I must do, stay in the tent for the next two, three years?
“If they give us materials we will try knock the nail and things together to get a roof over our head.”