One year after Hurricane Dorian roared across Abaco and Grand Bahama, killing at least 74 people, displacing hundreds of residents, and decimating entire communities, Samaritan’s Purse, an international disaster relief agency, remains on the ground providing relief and helping residents rebuild.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for people on those islands, noted Daniel Ruiz, deputy country director of The Samaritan’s Purse of The Bahamas.
“That situation has brought on a secondary traumatic experience for many people,” Ruiz said.
“That kind of piles on top of what people that lived through Hurricane Dorian were still trying to recover from mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
We want to launch some projects to partner with local churches to help with trauma healing and restore a bit of normalcy for people in Abaco and Grand Bahama.”
Having experienced Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, Ruiz said when he arrived in Abaco, the experience hit home.
He said the state of the island was extremely “oppressive”.
“It was difficult,” Ruiz said.
“My family lived on the coast of Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina hit [in 2005]. It was very personal to me. I knew I had been there before. I knew what that felt like. When I hit the ground, I was able to connect with the victims.”
After Dorian, there was a critical need for essentials.
Two days after the killer storm, Ruiz said, a team from Samaritan’s Purse was able to provide relief to Dorian victims in Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“In the early days of the response, drinking water and food was a high priority during the emergency response,” he said.
“We were able to set up water distribution points where people could come and access free drinking water. We were able to take water to the cays and
distribute that, along with relief supplies. We were able to bring in over 150 volunteers from across the world.
“We were able to quickly get in and begin removing the hurricane debris. We stayed through that process. Man-O-War Cay was finished up in February. Our main focus was to get all of the debris out of the way. You have got to do that before you rebuild physically.”
The organization is still providing drinking water to residents across Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the progress of rebuilding, Ruiz told The Nassau Guardian, “We have been very thankful that the government has allowed hurricane recovery efforts and reconstruction efforts to continue through all of the lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions.”
The non-government organization has partnered with local churches in home repair projects and has seen a lot of success.
“Earlier in the year, when there were previous lockdowns in April, May and June, we have been able to continue our debris removal in Guana Cay, Elbow Cay,” Ruiz said.
“We finished those up at the end of June. We have continued to put tarps on homes. They (Dorian victims) needed tarp to keep their homes dry during the hurricane season. We also did mold remediations for people who had mold in their homes. We installed drywall. A lot of those activities were able to continue operating throughout the COVID-19 restrictions which were a blessing.”
The Samaritan’s Purse has repaired nearly 100 roofs and supplied 500 tarps for houses, according to Ruiz.
He noted that relief efforts in Grand Bahama have also made progress.
“Earlier in the year, we were operating the emergency field hospital that we deployed here on behalf of the Rand Hospital and the Ministry of Health,” he said.
“Samaritan’s Purse transitioned that facility over to the hands of Rand Memorial staff. We donated that facility to the Ministry of Health to be able to use it in a future crisis. I think the Ministry of Health is using some of that facility for COVID-19 screening.”
In addition, the organization has launched a program to assist victims in preparing for a future crisis.
“We are partnering with a local church that’s focused on building hazard committees,” Ruiz said.
“It provides training across multiple subjects in responding to a disaster. It also equips local churches to build within themselves the capacity to be first responders in their communities after a crisis.
“When we leave, we would not just help repair all the physical structures. We will leave behind stronger communities that can respond and be a part of serving their neighbors and communities in the event of another crisis.”