Some Marsh Harbour residents say looting still an issue

Two months after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, some residents on Abaco claim looting is still a concern.

Some Abaconians also claim that they cannot leave their homes unattended for too long, as looters target unoccupied properties.

“I saw grown men break down and cry,” Amos Weatherford, 42, told The Nassau Guardian.

“No one wants to rebuild here. Who wants to start a business if you have to hire a security guard to sit there 24 hours a day to watch it?

“No one could afford that.”

Weatherford also shared an incident where a family member returned from Florida with building supplies only to have them stolen while taking a short lunch break. 

He said he tried calling the police, but he got no response. 

He added that residents feel law enforcement efforts on the ground are “completely worthless”. 

While his family worships at a nearby church, Weatherford said, he has to stay home in Sweeting’s Village, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, to protect their belongings from looters. 

“Two weeks ago, they went in my mother’s house and stole everything right down to the pots and pans,” he said.

“You call the police, and the police don’t answer their phone. There’s no 919 number to call. There’s no one to call. No one’s coming.”

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said in an interview with The Nassau Guardian that he was surprised to hear of continued looting complaints.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of officers on the ground in every settlement, and in every cay. So, if people are experiencing issues, we have a large complement of police and defense force officers on the ground,” he said. 

“This is somewhat of a surprise to me because it hasn’t been reported to me. Our officers continue to work day and night, and they’re running operations. So, those individuals should report it.” 

Dames added that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis lauded the efforts of police and defence force officers this weekend. 

However, while Weatherford said looting on the island remains a vexing issue for many residents, he said that there are no incidents of physical violence. 

“They’re not looking for physical confrontation,” he said.

“The looters are afraid of homeowners with guns. So, you’ll hear them knocking on the door asking if anyone is home, but no one has been murdered and no one has been raped. It’s just non-stop petty theft.

“Some homes have been looted three times. Like, they come back. Fix the door, then they break the back window. You fix the back window, and they break the back door.”

Similar claims came from Lydia Hill, 38, of Sweeting’s Village.

Hill said after the storm, she and her family were unable to stay in their home because of the damage, forcing them to relocate to a nearby apartment. 

“Our home has been broken into, and they stole many items including coins, my wedding dress, and a lot of other personal items,” she said.

“This is in broad daylight not even in the night.”

She claimed residents are “not at all” confident in law enforcement on the island. 

“We asked almost on a daily basis to have one law enforcement officer on the only road that enters into our neighborhood for the first three and a half weeks after the hurricane, and we finally gave up asking for it,” Hill said.

“At that time, our neighborhood was the only operating command center and distribution point for Abaco because it took 21 days for the government to open their own with assistance from persons at our center.”

She said that her neighborhood went from having over 200 residents to eight in the first three days after Dorian’s passage because of rumored looting and an alleged cholera outbreak.

Hill said those people are slowly returning to the community when it became evident that unoccupied homes were targeted for looting. 

“It’s no longer just survival mode,” she said. 

“I mean really you don’t need a wedding dress to survive. This has now turned into burglary.” 

Hill lives with five family members, and said that at least one person has to stay at their apartment to keep an eye on their home. 

Despite all of this, Hill, a ninth generation Abaconian, said she and her family will not be deterred by thieves.

“That’s home. Looting isn’t going to make us go, but it has caused us to be a lot more vigilant than we used to be,” she said.

“It’s made my parents return to a home quicker than they probably should have because we were still getting rid of mold and toxins.”

Ultimately, she said, she doesn’t think law enforcement has done its job. 

“There’s hundreds of officers in Abaco,” Hill said.

“We’re one of the few neighborhoods in Marsh Harbour that still has residents, and we had the only distribution center open since day five. And they couldn’t spare one person in uniform? One?”

Asked to respond to such claims, Dames said, “That can’t be true because we have an assistant commissioner who has oversight on Abaco. We have hundreds of officers there on the ground.

“…Well over a month ago, we established a huge police station there. I went out and spoke to the community. The prime minister would’ve made countless trips. I would’ve made countless trips, and this whole question about looting, this is the first time I’m hearing about this in weeks.

“I would encourage her, if she feels threatened, she should reach out to the police station right there in Marsh Harbour, right on the government compound, and they have hundreds of officers.”

He reiterated that these claims are somewhat surprising to him, and assured that he will pass the information on to the commissioner of police. 

Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson was unavailable for comment up to press time.

Cindy Pinder, 59, of Casuarina Point, South Abaco, said she had scores of generators donated to her to distribute to her community from Coca Cola Puerto Rico and a private donor from Miami, Florida.

She said she was able to donate 30-40 generators to the wider Abaco community thus far.

However, she shared an incident where one of the recipients from Central Pines, Abaco, had their generator stolen while they were at work. 

Pinder said the generator that she donated was used to power two homes in that neighborhood. 

“Every morning, they’d get up and go to work, and they came home one day and her generator was gone along with every single item in her house,” Pinder said.

“They took her bed, they took her children’s juice boxes, they took her refrigerator, and the neighbor’s house was also completely cleaned out. Nothing left. 

“Now she has nothing left in her house. She’s working hard to try to rebuild her life, and they stole everything. That’s how bad things are on the island. You go to work, and when you come home all your stuff is gone.”

Looting has been a concern since the storm’s passage in early September with multiple reports circulating on social media. 

On September 5, Minister Dames said that while there have been isolated incidents of looting on the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, most of the reports that circulated on social media were unfounded or “grossly overstated”.

On September 23, Ferguson told The Nassau Guardian security issues are improving on the island despite claims of continued looting.

The commissioner added that while he will not discount these claims, officers on the ground remain vigilant.

Last month, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said Cabinet will discuss whether to implement a curfew on Abaco due to looting concerns.

He added that he is “not happy” about the security situation on the ground and the number of police and defense force officers on the island.

Minnis previously stated that he wanted an additional 150 officers on the ground, something he repeated when he met with the top police and defense force commanders at the Government Complex in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, last month.

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