For many Abaconians, a different kind of Christmas awaits

Ricky Sweeting, 61, of Elbow Cay, Abaco, said he usually kicks off his Christmas holiday opening gifts with his family at home on Christmas Eve.

Next on the agenda is a dinner and spending the next 24 hours visiting family members’ homes.

Sweeting said this year will be different, but he plans to make the best of it.

It has been nearly four months since Hurricane Dorian tore through parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama, leaving hundreds of residents homeless and unemployed.

“We’re going to do our best to make our kids happy,” Sweeting said.

“We’re going to celebrate Christmas for what it’s all about – love, family and, most importantly, the birth of Christ.”

On September 9, days after the storm, he and his family evacuated to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera.

Sweeting said his granddaughter was placed in a school on the island, as she is preparing for the Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) examinations.

His seven-month-old grandson has epilepsy, he said.

Sweeting said his family had to be somewhere they can readily obtain the medication that he needs.

“It’s hard to fathom that your life can change so drastically just in a matter of hours,” he said.

“We went through Hurricane Floyd, and we got out the next day. We did our own recovery efforts, but Dorian was a totally different ball game.

“You know, the eye wall went right over us, and it was so much devastation. My house managed to stay up, but what took my roof out was flying debris puncturing holes into it and the breeze blew it apart.”

Considering many Abaconians may feel discouraged during this holiday season, Sweeting said, “I know that God works everything for our good and his glory.

“I know just as God instructed the children of Israel after they crossed the Red Sea to set up stones as a memorial for the children to be reminded of how He had brought them out of Egypt, we will be able to look back at where we were after Dorian and testify as to where He has brought us [through] and how He has provided for us.”

Sweeting added, “God kept us alive, and he kept us alive for a purpose. He has a big plan for all of us. We’ve got this. Use this time to strengthen your faith, and trust that God will provide all that is needed.”

He said that the plan is to move back to Abaco in the summer while his grandchildren are on break to begin the rebuilding process.

Lucas Albury, 37, said many Abaconians are relocating to other islands to spend the holidays with their families as resources on Abaco remain scarce.

“A lot of people here in Abaco, myself included, have young children,” he said.

“After the hurricane, there’s no power in some areas, shelter is scarce, food and water [are] available, but it’s a limited commodity and fuel is rationed.”

Last Christmas, Albury said, there were a lot more gifts under the tree compared to what is anticipated for this year.

He has two sons, the youngest of whom is nine.

“On one end, you’re thankful that everyone made it through the storm, but obviously as much as you’re thankful, it’s a lot different when you can’t find the things you’d like,” Albury said.

“We’re trying to just get the necessities for the kids.

“They’re coming home, and being reminded that the home they once knew was more or less destroyed, and it will be years before it gets back to any semblance of what it was.

“So, it’s definitely a change.”

Dale Hill, 56, of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, lost 40 uninsured vehicles from his rental car business during the Category 5 storm.

He also owns the Island Breezes Hotel in Marsh Harbour which he has been trying to restore since the storm.

He said he’s going to force himself to relax for two days this Christmas, considering all that has taken place over the past few months.

Hill said many other hurricane survivors are also preparing for a different holiday compared to last year, as electricity has only been restored to a few settlements thus far.

“The only thing you can do is remain positive,” Hill said.

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