When a natural disaster strikes, survivors can be stripped of their loved ones, their homes, their possessions and their livelihoods.
Being left with just the clothes on one’s back and at the mercy of relief distributions can also strip otherwise self-reliant people of their dignity and confidence.
With that in mind, Wayne and Marsha Stubbs, who were previously featured by Perspective after their home served as a refuge for 128 storm shelter evacuees, decided to extend their civic duty even further over the weekend by organizing an event at their home designed to help affirm a sense of dignity and forward-thinking in the consciousness of those still struggling to recover in Dorian’s aftermath.
Dubbed a “Hurricane Relief Shopping Spree”, residents of the downtown Freeport community known as “back of town” were invited to shop for critical items with currency Marsha Stubbs created especially for the event.
“Once the storm happened my sisters sent me items to give out as hurricane relief and it was quite a bit to give out,” she told us before heading out to provide transportation for those wishing to attend.
Stubbs chose the back of town area, she pointed out, based on her observation that residents there seemed not to be receiving as much relief supplies as were being received in other areas.
“We made dollars and so everybody will get $50 with which to come in and shop for whatever they want,” she continued, “and the reason I did it this way is I think we have to begin getting ourselves from a mindset of everybody continually giving to us because the giving is going to run out and I think the giving is going to run out soon, and so we have to now get into the mindset of thinking that if I only make $50, how do I stretch this to buy what I need.”
Her outlook is important.
Prior to Dorian, Grand Bahama had a significant unemployment rate and hundreds have lost their jobs since then, putting even more Grand Bahamians in a state of dependence rather than independence.
A firm sense of dignity is a critical component to personal recovery as without it, an individual will not see himself or herself as being worthy of persevering or worthy of respect notwithstanding one’s present condition.
From those looking in who lack empathy and sensitivity, the attitude directed toward storm victims is that they ought not complain about anything and should be satisfied with whatever they are able to receive.
But this view is a direct assault on the dignity of storm survivors, as it suggests that the effects of a natural disaster entirely out of their control reduces them to being less than worthy of a quality mode of recovery that honors their humanity and respects the need to be able to trust in their ability to provide for themselves and for their families.
“The dollars we made are named after our father, Dave,” Stubbs informed us fondly. “And since my sisters sent the items, we named the dollars ‘Dave’s Girls.’”
Throughout the day, residents armed with their special wallet of currency shopped for clothing for themselves and their children, food, water, toiletries and household cleaning items.
For those in attendance, the ability to “shop” appeared for the time to return their realities to a familiar place of normalcy.
As they made good on their purchases, several shoppers stopped to speak with us, sharing their stories of survival during the unprecedented flooding in Freeport that left most of the city underwater and put most of the businesses in the downtown district out of commission.
“This is not a normal storm”
For Brenda Smith, who is related to a family of eight missing and feared dead in east Grand Bahama, Hurricane Dorian is the latest of major hurricanes to rip through her home.
“This is now my third time clearing out my house, first in September 2004, then October 2016 and now again in September 2019,” she told Perspective. “We’ve got to thank God we are alive and we’ve got to pray for those who have lost loved ones.”
No section of Freeport, save for Queen’s Cove adjacent to the storm-ravaged Grand Bahama International Airport, was designated an evacuation zone and no one miles inland expected the level of inundation that took place rendering many active and potential shelters unsafe due to flooding.
“When the water was coming in, I tried to get out the back door because the front door was already boarded up,” Smith recalled, “and the force of the wind slammed the door and it struck me across the shoulder.
“I was telling my neighbors, ‘Y’all we’ve got to get out of here; this is not a normal storm.’ The water came in so quickly it was like the water was coming up from underground.”
By the time Smith was able to get away from her street to a place where she could attempt to flag someone down for help, the water level was chest-high.
It was an experience Sophia Allen also shared as she and her family, including her two-year-old daughter, rushed to flee the danger of the rushing tides.
“That morning we got up at about 6:30 a.m. and we saw the water, but we didn’t know if that was salt water or the rain,” she said.
“We figured it was just rain but by the time we walked to the back of the house and came back the water had rushed past the house and we knew right away that we needed to get out.”
Allen, who lost 12 friends from the east, said her son rushed to cut open their back fence as she called out to a friend to take her daughter in the event evacuating would require a swim to safety.
“We all evacuated but we didn’t have much time because soon the water was up to our chest and our neighbors had to get the police to assist and swim them out because the water rushed in so quickly.
“We only had a few minutes to get out before we would have drowned.”
The storm surge left Allen’s home gutted with cracks in the concrete walls from the force of the floodwaters.
“I now own a pair of slippers of my own but before that I was wearing my neighbor’s shoes,” she said abashedly. “Everything is gone; if I don’t laugh I’ll cry.
“I own four pieces of clothing, my baby was just recently able to get a pair of slippers but all her things were destroyed.”
Her trauma was made worse by what could have been the deaths of her family members after the vehicle they fled into to escape the surge in their area of Mayfield Park began to be swept away by the flood.
“They didn’t know what to do so they called me and I called NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) and they said they could not come out,” Allen noted.
“So I was frantic. It was getting dark; they were stranded and I lost connection. I called Nassau to have people try to call them too but my dad used to be a diver and he decided he would try to come out of the car along with my son and they pushed the car to a higher area and that’s how they were able to save themselves.”
“Staying there was death”
Fisherman Kahsan Higgs recalled vividly the moment when he knew his family needed to escape the back of town area or risk death.
“Only grace and mercy has us here, I can tell you,” he said assuredly.
“On the day of the storm we got a call from the Church of God of Prophecy telling us to try to make our way there but by that time you could not leave through any of the exit corners so it was like a trauma.
“By the time we had left the water was over seven feet high,” Higgs added. “I made up my mind that me and my family could not die right here; staying there was death.
“My neighbor sent someone out to get us in a Dodge 3500 and that’s how we got rescued.”
Terron Williams, who was among shoppers purchasing replacement clothing and other items, was forced to evacuate his home barefoot to outrun the pace of the surge.
“During the hurricane we noticed that the water was in one of our neighbor’s yard, so we took a chance and went out in the hurricane in the vehicle,” he began. “We got as far as the airport and that’s when we saw the big waves crashing and by the time we got back we only had enough time to pack up some things and get out of there.
“I did not even leave with shoes on my feet; that’s how fast the water came.”
After three days he was able to return to find his home gutted and all his belongings destroyed.
“Right now, we have a few friends that are coming by to help us gut out and do the electrical work and we are sleeping on blow up beds in the home,” Williams replied in response to our question about the progress of house repairs.
“Mold is a major problem because after the flooding everybody was saying they were not going to take down their sheetrock,” he continued. “Some took it down and noticed as they took down the sheetrock that the mold started to spread all the way up to the ceiling so the whole house had to be completely gutted.”
Both Williams and Higgs stressed that area residents are in need of drinking water, food and household supplies.
It was an array of needs echoed by Max Laing, who said that while his construction skills enabled him to replace and re-plaster the sheetrock in his home once he was able to secure the supplies, most in the area are not nearly as fortunate.
“It ain’t easy like that, you know,” he maintained. “For one, assistance is taking too long to come; you’re getting things like water and ice and canned goods but people also need building materials.”
Laing said he had not yet heard word on when NEMA assistance with building materials might materialize and claimed that at times, residents come to know about a NEMA distribution exercise only after it would have concluded and the report thereof is posted to social media.
“And other times by the time as you get there everything is gone from earlier that day,” he indicated.
Laing, as did Smith before him, expressed concern that people who had not suffered major damage were benefitting disproportionately from relief supplies from NEMA.
“I passed by NEMA one day this week asking for water and they told me come back this morning,” he disclosed, “but if you pass there in the evening all these jeeps are reversed up at the opening of the NEMA building with their tops up. What are they reversed up there for in the evening in the dark?
“You don’t have to wonder who is getting the supplies; you can see who is getting it.”