For Anischa Davis, a resident of McLean’s Town, Grand Bahama, living with the reality of missing loved ones is a tormenting experience.
“I lost friends,” she told Perspective last week following a public meeting for east Grand Bahama residents at the St. George’s High School Gymnasium in Freeport. “My husband lost a cousin possibly — we still don’t know because they are missing.
“It’s just no closure. When you have a body at least you have a little bit of closure knowing that you found them despite the situation you found them in, but not knowing where they are is devastating.”
Thirty-one persons are missing in east Grand Bahama following the passage of Hurricane Dorian, according to Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Samuel Butler, who told Perspective that as more days pass, opportunities for successful search and recovery could become more difficult.
“The effort continues,” he stressed. “Along with the police and defense force and a number of volunteers from Fire and Rescue out of Florida, we spent several days conducting rapid response early on by air, land and sea because of the nature of what happened.
“We have done searches along the seabed, in rural areas and flyovers using technology and the natural eye to search for persons. More volunteers, police and defense force officers are scheduled to arrive to continue a further scope until we are satisfied that we have expended all possibilities.”
Police report that there are eight confirmed storm-related deaths on Grand Bahama, though bereaved family members and residents say there are more deaths than are being stated by the authorities.
Butler, in response to our query on how the eight reported storm victims were located, noted that the bodies of those eight people were not found by the force’s search teams, but rather by area residents during their own independent searches.
He indicated that search teams have covered the “entire eastern area” by sea to a minimum of a five-mile radius.
“As we count days, there are instances that give us some optimism that we might be able to find contact and on the other hand as we count days based on the proximity to the waterways, there might be even more difficulties in locating persons.”
At the gym that now serves as a shelter for displaced east Grand Bahama residents, attendees hugged, cried and gathered in intimate groupings to share stories of loss, death and survival.
A number of residents in attendance said they had family and friends still missing, and sought details on the status of search efforts.
As questions and fears about the fate of loved ones linger on, so do concerns about what is now a significant state of homelessness in the east as well as in Freeport.
Communities have been transformed into piles and pieces of people’s lives dumped at the roadside of storm-gutted houses where homeowners mourn the loss of their hard work, their life’s investment and their dreams.
Given the level of displacement, most attendees were eager to find out about efforts to rebuild or secure safe shelter, with Finance Minister Peter Turnquest — the member of Parliament for East Grand Bahama — stressing that the extent of the need will require time as well as financial resources that are limited.
‘The kitty is only so big’
“We recognize that there is tremendous need and that a lot of people have been displaced,” Turnquest told his constituents. “The solution to this problem is not overnight; unfortunately the need is so massive it is going to take us a bit of time to find a temporary solution and even a little bit longer to find a permanent solution.”
Turnquest said the government is looking at various suppliers to find “means and types” of temporary accommodations.
“We have been looking at tents that can be air-conditioned and comfortable, modular homes that would be more sturdy and mobile trailers that may be able to be deployed and provide some level of comfort and security, but all of these things come at a tremendous cost and finding them and sourcing them is also a significant challenge.”
Addressing concerns expressed about how donations received following Hurricane Dorian are being utilized, Turnquest said, “Let me tell you — to run a relief organization as we have done is expensive — millions of dollars.
“To find the solutions for shelter is millions of dollars and the kitty is only so big and the loss of income from Abaco and Grand Bahama is also a big hole that we are going to have to fix and so it means there are only so much resources that we have.”
It did not appear to be the message some residents had come to hear and this is understandable given what was undoubtedly their desire to come away from the meeting with a sense of hope that circumstances for them might soon improve.
Turnquest did, however, announce that the government has set aside a separate budget that will focus on hurricane relief and recovery.
“So separate from the budget that we would have passed in June we are creating a budget just for this so there will be some resources for social services, urban renewal, ministry of works and all these agencies to assist,” he advised.
“But we cannot put money in your hand like that,” Turnquest maintained. “I was asked this morning why the government doesn’t just give money to the people because it is a difficult time but we just cannot.
“We will go broke and in a month you will come back and say ‘I still need it’ and that will not help anybody.”
Social service officials meantime advised east enders that the government would provide a $700 monthly allowance for three months to assist with rental units for those displaced by the storm.
Moving from one apartment to another has become the lot of Gold Rock Creek resident Lavar Saunders and his family, who lost their home but are eager to return and rebuild.
“It has been hard because kids don’t understand this,” he shared. “They were settled and comfortable in their own home and now they are uprooted and looking at the people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina — that’s how it feels right now.”
To add injury to their losses, several east enders have been the victims of looting.
ACP Butler said police had arrested several people who were caught in the act of looting damaged homes in east Grand Bahama.
The police stations and residences in the eastern settlements of High Rock and McLean’s Town were destroyed, but Butler said officers have returned to conducting daily patrols in the east and are prepared to live in tents so as to return a permanent police presence to settlements that are approximately 30 miles and beyond from Freeport.
The police force suffered a notable loss of assets on Grand Bahama during Dorian, as its vehicles at Police Headquarters in downtown Freeport were submerged by an unprecedented storm surge that has left most businesses in the city center damaged and closed.
When questioned by Perspective on when the government would cause these vehicles to be replaced, Turnquest advised that replacement vehicles were expected on the island as of last Friday.