Setting the record straight on disaster response

Dear Editor,

In times of national distress, thank God there are many Bahamians who spread hope and show gratitude for what is being done to help.

Sadly, there are others among us who recklessly spread false information, and create resentment and despair.

A letter to the editor in yesterday’s Nassau Guardian written by “JB” is an unfortunate example of false information. In writing about the manner in which homeless people from Abaco and Grand Bahama have been evacuated, JB wrote as follows:

“It appears no triaging of evacuees was done.” (This is false)

“People have been picked up or put on planes or mailboats and dropped off without any processing.” (False)

“Clearly no coherent plan was in place to address this problem.” (False)

“It seems to me,” says JB, “that those with pressing medical problems should have been evacuated first.” (This was done, to the extent possible, by medically staffed and equipped helicopters.)

“It would have been a simple matter to first ask Bahamians with relatives in New Providence to identify themselves, since this group of evacuees would have a place to stay while in New Providence.”

Wrong. The most vulnerable, the elderly, those with babies and small children, the most shattered human beings, were brought out first.

“People were picked up and dropped off without any processing.” (False, again)

It would appear that the writer had no interest in checking the facts before he wrote such a destructive letter for publication.

I wonder what he has done to participate in any of the rescue and relief efforts. If he had volunteered to help, this is what he would have learned:

Early last week, an unprecedented collection of private citizens and businesses, together with NEMA and local and international NGOs, came together in a hangar at Odyssey Aviation to collaborate and organize an immediate response to the catastrophic national emergency resulting from Hurricane Dorian.

What was organized there is a fully-functioning evacuation center, a disaster relief logistics center and an evacuee welcome centre.

As critically ill persons were identified in Abaco and Grand Bahama, they were picked up as soon as it was safe for planes and helicopters to fly, and brought to Odyssey. There, an enclosed, fully-staffed and equipped triage station was set up by the Ministry of Health, with an ambulance standing by outside to transport patients to the hospital as needed.

A baby was delivered by the triage staff on Sunday night. The mother had gone into labor on the airplane bringing her there.

As planes and helicopters arrived at the hangar carrying evacuees, volunteers greeted them and each individual, young and old, was offered water and food.

In the evening hours, a hot meal was provided through the generosity of many individuals and local restaurants.

Those in need of medical attention were guided to the medical section of the hangar, where nurses and aides cared for them. Those with babies were invited to visit a fully-stocked baby center, where diapers were changed, milk and food was available and a lollipop given to older children to encourage them to smile.

Every individual was electronically registered at Odyssey Aviation.

Those without formal identification had their photographs taken for the database, and each was asked if they have family or friends in New Providence.

Those who did, waited to be picked up.

Those who did not were directed to a large air-conditioned tent, where they were cared for while awaiting assignment and transfer to government-approved shelters.

Up to last evening at 5 p.m., more than 4,500 people were landed at Odyssey from Abaco and Grand Bahama, and have been processed in this manner; more planes were due to land last night.

Additionally, over 1,000 people who arrived in Nassau by boat were brought to Odyssey for processing, and they, too, are in the database.

JB’s letter has not helped a difficult situation.

That the Guardian would add a bold, negative headline to it in an effort to draw attention to the false news, is deplorable.

The same can be said of Alfred Sears’ letter which was published on Saturday, September 8, which also contained false news and was headlined in a manner that would attract attention, thereby creating dissension and mistrust.

Our country has been dealt a devastating blow.

Dorian is now known to be the worst Atlantic hurricane in history to hit the northern Bahamas.

No government in a country of 400,000-plus people could be fully prepared to manage such a disaster.

God bless the British, American and Caribbean medical and military personnel, and the international NGOs, who have poured into our country by the hundreds to help us.

Battle ships, hospital ships, planes, helicopters and good people are all around us.

All fair-minded Bahamians should be encouraged to appreciate what has been done, to use our time and energy in a positive manner, to assist those in need, to lift up our people and give us all hope for the future.

Storms have a way of bringing island communities together. Dorian, while unprecedented in its fury, will ultimately be no different.

Bahamians from all walks of life are joining together to rescue, donate, evacuate, assist and rebuild.

JB is encouraged to join this effort to unite and rebuild, instead of joining a minority intent on dividing.

– Lynn Holowesko

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