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Signs of hope on Abaco

MARSH HARBOUR, Abaco — The scars of Hurricane Dorian are just as visible on parts of Abaco as they were in the immediate aftermath of the monster Category 5 storm.

When The Nassau Guardian touched down at the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport on September 5, 2019 — just two days after the storm devastated the northern Bahamas — there were dozens of people lining the airport’s gate, begging to be evacuated.

This was not the case when The Guardian touched down at that same airport on Friday.

While the small, eight-seat plane only landed at the international airport to taxi to Cherokee Aviation, it was evident that, although not swarmed with desperate, traumatized residents begging to be saved from the nightmare left in Dorian’s trail, this was an island that still has lots of healing.

Unlike before, there were no Royal Bahamas Defence Force marines — armed with firearms — guarding the area as a result of security concerns.

There were no aid workers giving out water and food to families who had just lost everything, including loved ones.

But one of the airport’s buildings still had a chunk of its roof missing and a short drive to the city’s main street, which serves as its economic hub, revealed slow reconstruction for many businesses, which appeared as though they had been struck by Dorian the day before.

Buildings stood gutted by the storm with roofs and walls still missing.

“The downtown core of the central business district of Marsh Harbour is coming back,” Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Ken Hutton told The Guardian.

“I mean, however, we still have a lot of work to do. Last week, I drove through downtown and counted 15 buildings that are on the main commercial boulevard that are still in a state of destruction and that’s a good chunk for a small town.”

He said reconstruction is moving slow on the island.

Hutton said Abaco has “a good” five to eight years of rebuilding ahead of it.

“One of the things that we desperately need is these extensions, these VAT (value-added tax) and duty exemptions to continue [but] not in six-month tranches,” he said.

“We need a good, solid three years with no VAT or duty on building supplies and construction services. That needs to be done because one of the big things is people cannot find contractors right now because everyone’s busy.

“New contractors can’t come in because there’s nowhere for them to live or for their staff to live. So, as a result, that’s really affecting how much construction can be done.”

The government designated Abaco and East Grand Bahama as special economic recovery zones following Dorian. The designation permitted duty-free purchases on all materials, fixtures, furniture, vehicles and equipment needed for business and residential construction. Other economic concessions were also offered.

Dorian — the strongest storm on record to hit The Bahamas —ravaged the two islands during the first three days of September 2019.

With the storm surge reaching 30 feet on Abaco, the storm wiped out whole communities. Dorian killed at least 74 people and left scores of men, women and children missing.

The storm caused $3.4 billion in damage and displaced more than 70,000 people.

Glender Archer-Knowles, a tour operator and resident of Marsh Harbour, was among those impacted.

While she was not on the island during the storm, Archer-Knowles said her apartment was among those damaged.

“All the roofs got knocked off in that area,” she said.

“I don’t know if it was a tornado or whatever it was. I’m now staying with my mother. I’m back to be a mother’s girl.”

When asked if she was rebuilding, Archer-Knowles replied, “Well, I actually manage her apartments. We rebuilt one but the police urgently needed housing to bring policemen in. So, we gave them those first set and we’re getting ready to build the second set. But you know that takes a minute with insurance and all of that.”

Bradley Fox, a resident of Marsh Harbour, was among those who decided to rebuild after his family’s home was destroyed in Spring City.

He said reconstruction did not start until August 2020.

Nearly one year later, according to Fox, the house is almost completed.

“God is good and that’s all I can say,” he said.

“Things are happening. We’ve been busting tail and working hard.”

While reconstruction appears slow-moving, Fox said things on the island are moving much faster this year than they were at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

“On Marsh Harbour, itself, you would see construction being done on every fourth site but now it’s every site,” he said.

“…Once they’re done with second homeowners and stuff on the cays, people are freeing up some of that labor force. The mainland is starting to see some work being done.”

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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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