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Storm survivors cope with challenges of life on New Providence

Nearly two months after losing everything during Hurricane Dorian, storm survivors at the HeadKnowles Foundation headquarters on Gladstone Road said they’ve experienced a multitude of challenges since relocating to New Providence.

Leroy Thompson, 62, lived in Dundas Town, Abaco, and is now retired after teaching for 45 years.

He said that finding affordable housing has been a challenge since leaving Abaco.

When he and his family first relocated, he said, they stayed in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife, his two daughters, his son-in-law, and his grandchild.

“One of the problems, I believe, being someone that has rented before, some of the folks should’ve been more compassionate, and try to go down on their rent,” Thompson said.

“Persons seized the opportunity to gouge the rent. Where I’m living now, I’m paying $1,200 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, and I didn’t have a choice because these landlords aren’t playing with you.

“They’re lining up all of these people making you feel like you’re on a waitlist, and then they hike up the rent.”

Like hundreds of other Abaconians, Hurricane Dorian left an indelible mark on Thompson’s life.

He said he recalled watching his five-bedroom home and attached apartments crumble within seconds.

He weathered the storm with his wife, his son, his pregnant daughter-in-law, and his two-year-old grand daughter.

“Everything that took years to build crumbled within seconds, but in everything that I do, I give God thanks,” he said.

“There are so many persons that are missing or unaccounted for, but God allowed us to walk out of the rubble alive.”

He added that not only has the monster storm affected people physically, but the mental toll is just beginning to set in.

“A young lady told me she was living with some relatives, and she told me she was afraid to go in the fridge to get water,” he said.

“One day, I broke down and cried while dropping my daughter to work because I felt like I was being a burden to them. So, can you imagine what people are going through?”

As a man of God, Thompson said, he trusts that he will be okay moving forward.

He said he is now basking in the glory of his grandson, Liam, who was born last week.

Sharina Saunders, 44, of Dundas Town, Abaco, said she finds the cost of living to be a challenge on New Providence.

She said: “If I were to make an accurate assumption, it’s more expensive to live here than it is to live in Abaco.”

“My husband and I aren’t working right now. So, we’re relying on donations. People aren’t very welcoming. Some are and some aren’t, but all in all we’re grateful.”

Saunders said she and her family were blessed with an apartment with free rent and utilities for three months.

Saunders and her family were in Dundas Town during the storm.

She said she remembers her home collapsing around her.

“We ran from room to room to try to escape the collapsing ceiling,” she said.

“We tried to run out in the middle of the hurricane, but the winds were too strong and it wasn’t safe. So, we waited for the eye to come and we got out.

“My husband was just recovering from an ablation for his heart. So, he was having problems walking. All of this, while our three kids are hollering and screaming.”

After the eye passed, she said, her family rode out the storm in the Government Complex in Marsh Harbour, Abaco.

Since coming to New Providence, she said she has been on one job interview and is awaiting a response.

Back in Abaco, she said she worked in the insurance industry, and hopes to find work in a similar field.

Her husband, on the other hand, she said, is recovering from his heart surgery that took place two months ago, and is unable to find work at this time.

Erin Hall, 25, of Hope Town, Abaco, said the job hunt has been challenging for her.

“I have been searching for jobs all over, and I have applied to more than eight jobs,” she said.

“I’m a chef, and I haven’t received any calls back as yet, and transportation has been a challenge. I had to learn to catch the bus with three children. It’s not easy.”

Hall said she also found it challenging having to cope with long lines and rude attitudes when picking up hurricane relief donations.

“They’re making you feel like you’re begging them,” she said.

“It’s horrible. The process is horrible.”

After the government advised residents of Hope Town to evacuate, Hall said, she sent her children to Marsh Harbour with a relative to weather the storm.

She stayed in Hope Town, but soon had to relocate to a shelter as her roof was compromised before the eye passed over.

“While the eye was passing, we had to swim out of the home,” she said.

“We swam to what was supposed to be the only designated shelter in Hope Town, but it was already destroyed.

“So, the police and a few of us broke into a home to seek shelter, and we made it through the hurricane there.”

After the storm, residents of Hope Town were advised to leave the island.

She said she was coping with the stress of relocating and the stress of having no idea where her three children were, who were all under the age of six.

After making her way to Marsh Harbour, she said, she found her children and headed to New Providence.

Hall said she will continue her job hunt, and hopes to find work so that she can take care of her kids.

Hurricane Dorian decimated large swaths of Abaco and Grand Bahama early last month. 

Its impact is expected to last years. 

Sixty-seven people have been confirmed dead to date, and the final death toll is expected to be “staggering”, according to Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands.

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