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‘Govt left us homeless’

Many homes in shantytowns on Abaco were destroyed, not by Hurricane Dorian, but by the government in the wake of the storm, according to a sworn affidavit by a resident of The Mudd.

The Category 5 storm wiped out chunks of Abaco, including many of the shantytowns on the island, in early September.

Timothy Rolle, 39, was one of thousands of Abaconians to flee to New Providence following Dorian.

He said he returned to Abaco on September 28, 2019 to check on the status of his house and other valuable items.

“When I returned, the community was fenced off with chain-link metal fencing and guarded by defense force officers — armed with guns — who told me that I could not return to my home and stated that The Mudd was off-limits,” said Rolle in the affidavit, which was filed in the Supreme Court on Friday.

“Despite numerous requests, I was not allowed to retrieve any items from my home.

“I, then, observed that someone set fire to the Pigeon Peas which destroyed most if not all of the remaining homes in that community. A few days later, I witnessed a tractor breaking down the homes, including my home, in The Mudd. I witnessed a tractor demolish my home in front of me as I stood by feeling helpless and hopeless.”

He added, “Post-Hurricane Dorian there were many homes in The Mudd and Pigeon Peas that remained standing that could have been repaired but the government destroyed everything that remained.”

Rolle, a Bahamian resident, said he lived in The Mudd for more than 30 years.

He said he lived there with his wife and five children, whose ages range from eight to 16 years old.

According to the document, which was filed by the attorneys representing the shantytown residents, Rolle lived near the entrance of The Mudd in a white four-bedroom house — approximately 1,500 square feet — with pink trim.

“My home was a properly constructed wooden and concrete structure that was fenced in,” he said.

Rolle added, “My home had proper plumbing and electricity supplied by generator and solar panels that I purchased. My home was one of [the] better-built homes in the entire community.

“In fact, during the last election, the FNM (Free National Movement) party found my home suitable to use as their election headquarters to meet and garner support and votes in The Mudd and Pigeon Pea community.”

Rolle said he also had a convenience store and restaurant on his property which catered to residents of The Mudd.

He said the items in his house and businesses were worth approximately $100,000.

“The contents of that home represent every cent I have earned since I was 16 years old,” Rolle said.

“I lost so many items, including things of sentimental value — items given to me by my mother who passed away — and nine pets including cats and dogs who I believe were in the house when the tractor destroyed my home…

“[I] lost a lot, specifically my kids’ documents, clothes, electronics, furniture and three vehicles.”

He said his vehicles were valued at $16,700.

According to Rolle, they were “put on the outskirts of the community where persons eventually stripped my vehicles for parts”.

In 2018, the government announced that it would demolish shantytowns throughout The Bahamas.

However, in August of that year, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson handed down an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.

Last month the government filed a summons which seeks to have five shantytowns on Abaco excluded from the injunction.

At the time, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the filing was the result of a recent assessment which indicated that shantytowns on the island had been wiped out by Dorian, noting that “nearly 100 percent of the buildings [were] totally destroyed”.

According to Friday’s affidavit, Rolle said he does not believe the government had any legal rights to demolish his home or the homes of others in The Mudd and Pigeon Peas.

“…I do not believe they would be acting lawfully were they to do the same to homes in Farm Road and The Farm,” Rolle said.

“I pray for the said injunction to be varied to apply to all homes in all Haitian ethnic organic rural communities which are referred to as shantytowns by the respondents.

“In so far as Abaco is concerned, the respondents are clearly on a path of arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional destruction. If the respondents are not prevented from continuing the destruction and demolition of the homes of the person occupying such communities, they will, like me suffer irreparable harm and damage.”

He said anti-Haitian sentiment has been “whipped up and inflamed” by politicians.

Rolle said shantytown residents are in need of the court’s protection.

“Not only will they have lost their homes and possessions, they will now be homeless and worsen the housing and relief crisis that exists in the Abacos and elsewhere as a result of Hurricane Dorian,” he said.

“What the government is doing — in destroying people’s homes that remain and which can be repaired — is senseless.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has said shantytowns “will not be tolerated”.

In September, the government issued a six-month banning on the construction of new buildings in shantytowns on Abaco.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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