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Long road ahead

As Hurricane Dorian trekked across the northern Bahamas a year ago, flooding parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama with up to 20 feet of storm surge and decimating buildings, many fought for their lives.

At least 74 people did not survive the storm. Thousands were left homeless and displaced.

Those who survived are haunted by the trauma as they try to rebuild their lives. But many have been left underwhelmed by the amount of progress made so far. 

Cindy Pinder, whose family owns Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm, said she wasn’t prepared for how emotional Dorian’s one year anniversary would be for her.

“It’s really affecting me today,” she said yesterday.

“Even thinking about it right now is making me very emotional, reliving the horror.”

She added, “I didn’t expect it, but I’m finding it to be a very emotional day, today.”

Pinder said that in the many months since, the government has given Abaconians empty promises more than anything else.

“It’s all a joke,” she said.

“Nothing we were told ever came to pass on anything – nothing.

“We’ve got nothing but empty promises since day one. And if it wasn’t for the NGOs and people to help us, there wouldn’t be much left of Abaco. I don’t know how any of us would have survived.

“Even now, with COVID and everything, most of us here are receiving food assistance from IDEA Relief. Times are tough here on the island with unemployment because of Dorian and because of COVID; it’s really difficult.”

She added, “For all intents and purposes, Marsh Harbour is still gone. There’s been very, very little redevelopment. Almost all of the businesses are still destroyed.”

Pinder said that while her family was fortunate enough to still have their home in Dorian, many who did, have not been able to rebuild. 

“[So] many people here are still living in domes and tents and in houses with tarps on the roofs,” she said.

“There’s been very little reconstruction here. Some of it is because of COVID. Some of it is because of lack of income. Some of it is because materials are extremely difficult to get here.

“And a lot of the NGOs that were here helping, all left back in March from when COVID struck.

“So, everyone is just kind of in limbo, waiting. And I’m not really sure what we’re waiting for. Are we waiting for help, money, jobs? We’re all waiting. I guess we’re just waiting for something to become normal.

“I haven’t had a pay check in a year and I’m still waiting to get my NIB. I’ve been living off of GoFundMe. Thank God for GoFundMe. If it hadn’t been for my family and friends, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I don’t have any idea. It scares me when I see the funds starting to get low now a year later. What am I going to do? It’s scary; we’re all waiting.”

Pinder said her family has been working nonstop to get the farm back up and running, but there’s still a long way to go.

“We still have at least another year or more’s work to do to become fully functional,” she said.

“So, it’s been very difficult. But we are optimistic. We’re reinvesting in our community. We’re making the best of it. We don’t have any choice. Where do you go when this is your life?”

Pinder said the lack of reliable electricity has only made the rebuilding efforts more difficult.

Still in great need

Roscoe Thompson III, chairman of the Marsh Harbour/ Spring City Township, said a year later, Abaco continues to be plagued by crime issues.

In a Facebook video yesterday, he said: “My question is going out to the government of The Bahamas. When are you going to get off your butts and start doing something here in Abaco in regards to the crime situation, the stealing, the lawlessness that is going on?

“I hate to bring this up before our memorial tomorrow, but it just seems that Abaco is the forgotten city and it’s very disheartening to me and others that live here that are trying to rebuild their lives and get their businesses going and I know two places that were broken into between yesterday and this morning.”

Abaconians have raised concern over such problems since the immediate aftermath of Dorian, but many are still of the view that not enough has been done to remedy the situation.

Tiffany Senn, a Hope Town resident, said a year after having to break out of her own home to get to safety in the eye of the storm, her repairs are nearing completion, with shingles set to be installed this week.

However, she said many others have not been so fortunate.

“It’s crazy that we’re in hurricane season and there are storms and some people aren’t as far with their homes as I am,” she said.

Senn said that while she sees the progress that has been made, she does not credit the government for any of it.

“When I came home [in November], there were still trailers in the middle of the road in Marsh Habour,” she said.

“There was debris everywhere. The ferry office was still in shambles. And now that’s fixed up. I mean, it’s come a crazy long way, no thanks to the government. But that’s no surprise. We were saved by Samaritan’s Purse and all of the other non-profit organizations and private donors, people that love Abaco and the cays.”

However, in an interview with The Nassau Guardian yesterday, Chairman of the Disaster Relief Authority John-Michael Clarke said non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were only able to assist through the direction of the government.

He said the government’s response to Dorian was a good one.

“In my view, given the level of devastation, NEMA executed as best they could, an appropriate response, themselves, along with the NGOs,” he said.

“What I’d like to stress is there is this common misconception that the NGOs come and they help. And they do come and they help. But what people need to be reminded of is the NGOs can only help through the direction of the government and its response agency, that is NEMA.

“So, the government is in every response.”

Clarke said that while the authority has many plans for the reconstruction of Abaco and Grand Bahama, it will likely take five to 10 years, especially given the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over the last 10 months, we’ve developed working plans for all of these things and it’s up to finding a way to provide the resources to make this happen,” he said.

“It’s by no means going to be easy. It’s going to be challenging simply because this year with the COVID environment and the economic challenges, these things are just going to take a little bit more time to do.”

Clarke added, “All things considered, this recovery isn’t like previous years simply because the level of damage isn’t the same. I guess he who feels it knows it. I’m not making excuses. I can only go by what the reports say. 

“[A]ll of the utility companies have employed the best strategy that they could have, given the resources given to them. Now, for some people, that response may be unsatisfactory and I understand that that’s how they feel. But I can give assurance that everybody has been providing the best they could, given the resources that have been available to them.”

While Pinder stressed yesterday that Abaco is still in great need of assistance, she still remains optimistic.

“I guess, really, what people need to know is a year has gone by and we’re basically in the same condition we were a year ago after the storm,” she said.

“We still need a lot of help. We still need construction materials, labor, donations.

“We need a lot. We need a lot of help.

“And all that being said, we’re making progress. Every day we make progress.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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