Perspective

Come home, but to what?

For many who evacuated Abaco and Grand Bahama shortly after the death and destruction brought by Hurricane Dorian, the decision to leave was a difficult one and a decision on when to return is not much easier.

There was an exodus of Grand Bahama residents to Florida shortly after the storm when cruise operators offered free departure from the island as a humanitarian gesture to facilitate evacuations.

And of approximately 250 Bahamians in Florida who have been described as being “marooned” and “in limbo”, more than half are said to be Abaconians.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis recently called on Bahamian evacuees in Florida to return home, highlighting temporary housing options for Abaco though conspicuously failing to indicate what such options exist for Grand Bahamians.

Nevertheless, Bahamians we spoke to said that while they love their country, they are uncertain of what they would be coming home to.

It’s an understandable dilemma.

“The majority of my family is now in America after the storm, almost 30 persons,” Abaco resident Corrinne Cornish said to Perspective. “We’ve all lost our homes and businesses.”

She indicated, “I plan on staying in the United States as long as possible. No, I’m not permitted to work in the U.S. but I also can’t work at home. If I were to move back I’d be faced with the struggle of living without basic necessities like potable water and electricity.

“At least in the U.S. we have comfortable housing with utilities.”

Cornish, who bakes and creates custom cakes, said her family has received help from individuals stateside to secure housing in South Florida.

“The children with us can go to school here in the meantime,” she added. “The schools in central Abaco were destroyed, there are no jobs there but we still have to pay for gas and groceries.

“I don’t think it’s easy to just say go home and rebuild our lives. How can we rebuild without income? We’d all love to be at home in Abaco; that would be ideal but at this time it’s not feasible.”

Of the Abaco evacuees, Minnis said many of them will be accommodated in the Family Relief Center being constructed near Spring City.

Though announcements of the construction of temporary dome housing for Abaco have been made, no details have been given on how the decision will be made as to who gets one of the 250 planned structures.

According to State Minister for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis, the dome homes will be open to both Bahamians and documented residents.

For Cornish, she understands that her life abroad is “in limbo” at the moment, but she nonetheless has concerns about the pace of cleanup and discovery of human remains in Abaco’s disaster areas which she fears represent contamination risks and a roadblock to reconstruction.

“As a small business owner in the private sector the task to start over, reevaluate and rebuild is just not as simple,” she explained. “My product is considered a luxury item [and] there is no market for it right now — not to mention I lost all of my tools and equipment.

Hurricane evacuees embrace outside Odyssey Aviation.

“Furthermore, no one is considering the emotional toll this storm has taken on everyone that experienced it,” Cornish maintained. “We have literally lost everything — our daily lives, routines, material possessions as well as friends and family, photos and heirlooms that held memories and significance are gone.

“So many experienced trauma and are seeking psychological help. The pain of seeing our beloved island how it is now can be overwhelming. We carry a heavy emotional burden and many persons cannot face viewing their home in that state.”

For Claire Basden who evacuated Marsh Harbour before the storm, life in Orlando, Florida, has been positive for her and her family, though she is saddened that her home has been destroyed.

“My daughter was awarded a full scholarship to a private school, Maitland Montessori; her immunization records and health examinations were all done for free by Physician Associates and we received clothing, gift cards and so much more to help us gain some sort of normalcy,” she revealed.

“Sheila Folk of Way Beyond Travel took us into her home and made sure we were all good and we got a car donated by Fields Auto due to the efforts of Catriona and Mike Harris.”

Basden is the operations manager of Leya’s Ice Cream Parlour, Bliss Coffee and Whitesound Wines and Spirits in Marsh Harbour.

While stressing that she loves her country and her people, she expressed disappointment in the way she feels the government is handling the response to Dorian.

“As for me returning home I have no home to return to,” she argues.

“I want to ask my government if you are calling us to come home, where exactly are we going to go?”, Basden questioned. “My daughter has no school to go to in Abaco.

“In Nassau the private schools are charging an arm and a leg and so are the rental properties. Putting my daughter in a public school in Nassau is a no for me.”

Much like Cornish, Basden voiced the uncertainty faced by business owners who suffered complete loss in the storm.

“I am an educated business owner with my bachelor’s degree in finance and economics, and I owned four businesses in Abaco and I lost everything.

“I literally have no reason to come home at this time, not for me to be without power, water and a sound mind.”

Life in New Providence and Eleuthera

For Kayleigh Nicole Sands, life in New Providence after leaving Abaco has been a challenge.

“Since getting to Nassau we have gotten jobs and started work but it’s hard,” she told us.

“Essentially being plucked from the people and places that you’ve known your whole life is a shock. It comes at me in waves; some days I’m happy, some I’m depressed. I try not to think about what all I lost.”

Immediately after the storm her family did not leave their neighborhood much according to Sands, due to the fear that dead bodies would be everywhere.

She said she is fortunate to be able to live in Nassau with her grandmother and uncle though the thought of starting over from scratch remains with her, as does the concern about being able to afford rental accommodations.

“The few friends I had are spread all over,” she continued as she explained the impact of evacuating to Nassau.

“All the faces you are used to seeing every day are nowhere. I have moments I catch myself staring off into space just thinking about it all [and] my kids are feeling it as well.

“They are used to free island life where they could run around outside and not worry,” Sands added. “They had a tiny house but it was theirs; they cry saying they want to go home.”

For Laura Lowe of Casuarina Point, South Abaco, her move to Eleuthera has been a positive experience as she and her husband work to recover.

“Right now our biggest struggle is just finances,” she noted. “My husband is still in Abaco working on our home and finding any work he can while he is there. What little we had saved is now gone.”

Lowe, who was on the job hunt during our recent interview expressed her gratitude to Eleuthera residents who she said have been welcoming and kind.

Her family’s tale of survival was as harrowing as it was incredible.

“We decided to stay in Marsh Harbour at the store where I worked because our home had pre-existing roof damage and we didn’t think it would have been safe,” she recalled.

“Staying in Marsh Harbour was a mistake; if I could do it over I would.”

That decision nearly cost them their lives as the store crumbled around and on top of them during Dorian’s onslaught on Marsh Harbour.

“My husband and I were sitting in two chairs and my sister was standing in the doorway that led to the kitchen area,” Lowe began.

“The reporter was talking about the storm and then he said and I quote ‘this is the worst storm to have ever hit The Bahamas’, and as soon as he said that it was like in the blink of an eye the roof sucked off, disappeared from before my eyes, and the walls caved in on us.”

From that point on it was a race to survive for the Lowe family as it was for Sands and her loved ones who rode out the storm at her parents’ house.

“We might have been in there about half an hour when the hallway door started to suck in and out on the frame,” Sands said. “The cement wall I was sitting against was shaking [and] my dad grabbed some nails and nailed through the door to the frame itself to stop it from blowing in on us.”

Thankfully they all lived to tell the story of surviving Hurricane Dorian.

The story of what lies ahead of these Abaconians, meantime, has yet to be told.

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