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Feeling abandoned

HOPE TOWN, Elbow Cay — Vernon Malone, 82, doesn’t know if he will ever be able to rebuild his home on Elbow Cay, Abaco.

Malone was born in that home in 1937.

After withstanding nearly every major hurricane over the decades, it was Hurricane Dorian that did it.

Only a wall and the foundation remain of Malone’s home.

Dorian struck Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September, impacting nearly 30,000 people and killing at least 70.

The Category 5 storm — the strongest on record to hit The Bahamas — caused roughly $3.4 billion in damage and other costs.

While residents of Great Abaco and the surrounding cays are struggling daily to pick up the pieces, many continue to feel

abandoned.

The Nassau Guardian ran across Malone in his famous shop, Vernon’s Store, known for his highly sought after freshly baked bread – a recipe he has perfected for nearly four decades.

Vernon Malone.

The Guardian asked about what it was like for him to lose his home.

“I can’t describe it,” he said.

“The only thing I can describe is the day that they came to remove some of the debris.

“…Other than a family member dying, that was the most emotional day I’ve ever lived.

“To know that you no longer have a house; you no longer have a place to live; you no longer have a place to call your own. You were at the mercy of other people to give you shelter.”

Malone lives in a Methodist church on Elbow Cay. His wife is staying with relatives in Florida.

“I’m hoping to be able to rebuild a small house, but the insurance doesn’t pay enough to build a house,” he said.

Rebuilding efforts on Elbow Cay, home to the famed Hope Town lighthouse, are slowly coming together, five months after residents withstood Dorian’s fury.

Mangled docks, homes, businesses and cars litter the island.

The clink, clack, zing and hum of saws can be heard, but some residents say the pace of reconstruction is moving too slowly as they do not have the level of support from government they need.

Residents told The Guardian that with the help of NGOs and second homeowners, rebuilding is taking place.

Indeed, several groups were hard at work repairing roofs, gutting homes and cleaning up debris when The Guardian visited recently.

Jane Patterson, an Elbow Cay resident, noted that things are moving at a slow pace.

“It would be nice for people to get materials to get back into their homes,” Patterson said.

“That’s the biggest issue right now.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t have insurance so they need help and materials are not coming and they don’t have money to buy materials and it is just frustrating.”

The Guardian ran across several residents who were unsure of what their next move will be.

And while some appeared optimistic, others admitted that surviving has not been easy.

Stafford Patterson, assistant chief of the Elbow Cay Fire Department, said the biggest need on the island is electricity.

“BPL needs to get their act together,” he said at his desk inside the Elbow Cay Fire Station.

He continued, “Next to that is building materials from all these donated funds for the needy.

“We are prioritizing the elderly and all this kind of stuff. Samaritan’s Purse is going to help us do some roofing and stuff like that.”

Patterson is a part of the recently formed Elbow Cay Restoration Committee, which aims to coordinate aid and relief on the island.

The Guardian asked him what a bad day for him looked like.

“What happens to me is I start thinking about a bunch of things, too many things at one time and that’s when it gets me down,” he said.

And how does he pick himself up?

“I went to one counseling session, which Americares offers if you have any issues,” he said.

When he feels himself getting down or overwhelmed, Patterson said he tries to take that energy and channel it into something positive.

“So, I’ll do something for the Elbow Cay Restoration Committee or start thinking about one project or another as a diversion,” he said.

“Keeping busy is probably the biggest diversion. If I sit down for too long it just brings tears to my eyes.”

Malone noted as well that every day brings something new.

“Every day seems to be a new adventure, like the generator won’t work and you…have to spend an hour a day getting diesel, oil, gas,” he said.

Patterson, who is known as Spark Plug, said he has become accustomed to the sights of Elbow Cay, the houses lying on top of one another, the debris and the beached boats.

“It’s a funny thing,” he said.

“For me, personally, I went over to Man-O-War Cay, probably right after new year’s, and I had an hour or so to kill.

“I took somebody over there to check on a boat. So, while I was over there I hooked up with one of my buddies and he took me around the island and said ‘this house used to be there’ and an hour later I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest.

“It was new to me. You know what I’m saying?”

Patterson was seeking to make the point that seeing similar destruction on another island made the reality of the hurricane even more real.

Months on from Dorian, Elbow Cay is far from normal.

“In my personal opinion, I think there is a lot of people on this island, myself included I’m not ashamed to say so, that is suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) to a certain extent and either haven’t recognized the symptoms or just don’t want to admit it to themselves,” he said.

“Normal? Nah. We aren’t normal here. We won’t be normal for a long time.

“But if we get electricity back…that would be a big relief to a lot of people. That’s my biggest concern.

“It’s really out of our hands as a community.”

Abandoned

Many residents, like Malone, have returned to Elbow Cay since the storm.

Jane Patterson noted that “the dads are back but the kids aren’t back [and] the wives aren’t back”.

She noted that repairs on the island must ramp up ahead of the opening of its tourist season.

“We need help,” she said.

Stafford Patterson said he can’t believe how little the government has done for the people of Abaco, particularly his small-town cay.

“It floors me, man,” he said.

“The PM (prime minister) came four, five days after the storm and that was just a photo op. They’ve been back at least once, possibly twice where we’ve had town hall meetings.

“The last one of this was sometime in November and the PM said at that meeting, me and my colleagues we are having a special session, 6 p.m., this coming Sunday at the House to approve some stuff or what not. We haven’t heard nothing since.

“I feel totally abandoned.”

But Malone noted that Elbow Cay will return.

It’s coming back and it will come back,” Malone said.

“It’s come back after every storm that it’s had.”

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