National Review

Double whammy

In Abaco communities, there is a sense of disappointment among some in the level of progress made in rebuilding one year after Hurricane Dorian.

“I feel like we have made a lot of progress, but there is still so much more to do,” said Sarah Sams, whose family owns Pineapples restaurant in Green Turtle Cay.

“I think everyone is kind of disappointed in our government, their lack of care for Abaco as a community and that’s tough. We’re very grateful for all of the help that we received from so many NGOs and just individuals who came here to our rescue or we would have never made it, but COVID basically got rid of all of them and now we’re kind of on our own. So, slow progress.

“I would never have thought we would see a storm like that. Having gone through it, it’s incredible how much progress as a community Green Turtle Cay has made in one year, but at the same time, it’s scary what we need to do just to get anywhere close back to normal.”

NGOs and foreign partners like the US government were a godsend in the wake of Dorian.

Without this level of help, we shudder to think what the response to the storm would have been, and how many more lives would have been lost.

Among the NGOs that have done significant work on Abaco and Grand Bahama was the disaster relief agency Samaritan’s Purse.

A team of disaster response specialists arrived less than 24 hours after the storm, distributing urgently-needed relief aid. On Grand Bahama, the agency constructed a 40-bed emergency field hospital.

Samaritan’s Purse said recently it is now equipping pastors to hire local contractors to repair houses across the northern Bahamas – restoring nearly 400 homes to date through tarping, drywall installation and mold remediation as well as window, door and roof repairs.

The needs remain great.

There is a general recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a large role in the slow pace of rebuilding, notwithstanding the fact that the competent authority allowed construction to continue on Abaco and its cays during lockdowns.

Speaking to National Review from Great Guana Cay yesterday, Troy Albury said he was happy to see Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) finally start reconnecting power several days ago.

“Finally, finally,” said Albury, who owns a dive shop and a boat, golf cart and house rental company.

He said he spends $60 a day to fuel his generator at nights. 

In its latest Abaco update on Monday, BPL lists Great Guana Cay, Moore’s Island, Little Grand Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay and Man-O-War Cay as cays that were re-engergized.

BPL also lists many communities on Great Abaco where power has been restored. It said it was pleased to advise of the completion of works and re-energization of overhead systems in Treasure Cay.

Teams were still working in Dundas Town and Murphy Town and some other areas.

While Great Guana Cay is listed as one of the cays where power was restored, Albury said yesterday that 75 percent of customers still do not have electricity, but he recognized that BPL teams were making progress.

On the cay, getting power fully restored is only one part of the challenges residents face.

“Those who have insurance and those who had the fortitude to come back, we’re pretty much back up and running, but it’s still a struggle because our main industry is tourism. No tourists are coming back and then of course this COVID thing has not made that any better,” Albury said.

He added, “As far as debris cleanup, thank God for the NGOs that did it because the government has done very little. The DRA (Disaster Reconstruction Authority) after months and months of begging sent us a contractor a week ago and they worked a grand total of five days and they’re gone.”

There is still a lot of cleanup that needs to be done on Guana Cay, Albury said, pointing out that houses still need to be knocked down and debris removed.

“A lot of people just walked away from their properties and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.

Albury said there are signs of hope, but Great Guana Cay is not tourist-ready by any means. Most of the major restaurants are closed, he noted.

Docks on Marsh Harbour need to be built, boat rental companies remain inoperable, hardware stores remain closed and “the bank is basically a trailer and they only allow four people in at a time”.

“It’s still a long way to go,” said Albury, noting that housing remains a critical challenge.  

He described yesterday, the one-year anniversary of Dorian’s unwelcome visit to the Abacos, as an emotional day.

“I just woke up 5 o’clock this morning,” Albury said. “It’s been a year, a year; a year without power, a year of ups and downs and the COVID thing isn’t making it any better.

“If COVID wasn’t here, we’d have much more progress. If we didn’t have COVID, we would be back almost in the swing of things, but there has been a double whammy. I don’t see our business returning for another year, easily.”

While the pace of progress and re-energizing the economy is slow, there are some positives.

Rebuilding at Baker’s Bay at Great Guana Cay is in full swing. The project has an estimated recovery and reconstruction cost in excess of $400 million over the next three years.

Long road to recovery

The magnitude of Dorian’s damage in The Bahamas is astounding.

In a report last November, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimated that the storm caused $3.4 billion in damage and losses in the country.

Infrastructure needs to be rebuilt from scratch in many areas before life can get back to a pre-Dorian normal.

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said in a national report on Monday that post-Dorian repairs to Abaco schools cost $12.6 million, while $5.2 million was spent on repairs to Grand Bahama schools.

Spring City debris management site in June.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Finance published its Fourth Quarter Fiscal Snapshot & Report stating that budgetary operations for fiscal year 2019/2020 were adversely impacted by two catastrophic events: Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.

“There was an estimated threefold increase in the fiscal deficit to $788.1 million. Recurrent and capital expenditures grew by a combined $231.7 million (8.8 percent) to $2,877.2 million ($2.87 billion), largely due to outlays for Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 initiatives,” the report noted. 

Ken Hutton, president of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, also highlighted the damper the pandemic has placed on getting Abaco’s economy up and running. 

“We had a food store open, we had a bank open, we had a pharmacy open, we had couple lumber yards open on the mainland,” Hutton told National Review.

“The hotels were progressing toward opening. Some of the cays are way ahead of the mainland in that regard, but with the lockdowns and closures and stuff, we’ve been in a limbo business-wise since March. 

“The Abaco business community is very resilient; they’re very tough and it’s just another challenge that we’ve got to face, that we’ve got to deal with.”

Asked to describe the level of progress Abaco has made in rebuilding, he said it was difficult to say.

But added, “I know that in the main communities of Murphy Town, Dundas Town, 40 percent of the homes there are still uninhabitable, they are still destroyed. The downtown business core is still unable to open because of the level of destruction.

“The debris has been cleaned up but there’s literally nowhere for a business to reopen here. Until things open up and until things change, Abaco is still going to be really a subsistence kind of economy. 

“We need to get the borders opened back up so we can get the driving engine of the Abaco economy, which is the second homeowners. As soon as they’re able to return and start rebuilding, I think you’re going to see some significant improvement in the economy. But right now basically we’re just treading water.”

Pastor Silbert Mills, who left Abaco in the immediate aftermath of the storm and returned three weeks later, is pleased with what he has seen so far.

“Being on the ground, I know what was here compared to what we have now and I think the Bahamian people or the people of Abaco would have been amazed at the progress we would have made if we did not have COVID-19,” Mills told National Review.

Months of work time were lost due directly to the pandemic, he noted.

“If we didn’t have that, this place would be so far ahead it would have amazed you,” he said.

“I’m satisfied that we are going to bounce back, that we are going to have a wonderful island and a place to live again, so you’re seeing homes being repaired; NGOs are continuing to assist, the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, some of the others have been around helping us in our reconstruction. Abaco is moving along quite well. I think we could have been further, but I understand the limitations we were faced with.”

Hutton is optimistic about an economic turnaround.

‘It’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the light to change from red to green.”

 

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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