Much like areas of Freeport, homeowners and business owners on West End’s waterfront and north shore whose devastation suffered 15 years ago in Hurricane Frances remains fresh, also suffered extensive losses in Dorian though their plight has not been featured in ongoing media coverage.
We traveled to Grand Bahama’s capital this past weekend and met gutted homes and a mosquito outbreak that keeps residents running for cover and repellent coils.
The stories are not unlike many in Freeport 30 miles away, in that many residents cannot afford to repair their homes which are uninsured.
Their storm-induced struggle is against the backdrop of an area economy with few job opportunities outside of fishing and the Old Bahama Bay resort which reopened the day before our visit.
And like those in Freeport and East Grand Bahama, residents offered the familiar refrain of disappointment in the lack of government assistance toward reconstruction efforts thus far.
Residents Sonia Miller and Fiona Nesbitt, who live in pre-fabricated homes in the West Heights section of Bootle Bay, say they are trying to do the best they can with repairs.
“I lost everything and we are just trying to cope right now and trying to get back everything we lost, but it will be a while before it happens,” Miller shared.
Nesbitt, her neighbor, said of necessary assistance, “you’ve gotta have your money son. If you don’t have any money then you’re messed.”
As you drive farther into West End along Bayshore Road you are first met with mounds of hurricane debris at an off-road site designated as a “no-dumping” zone before encountering shuttered homes and businesses.
Similar to the east, West End is primarily a fishing settlement and to the fortune of some fishermen there, their boats fared better than those 80-plus miles away in McLean’s Town and Sweeting’s Cay.
Along the seawall and in their anchored boats, fisherman were skinning conch, scaling fish and shelling crawfish as residents who did not relocate to Freeport sat outside their storm-damaged homes.
We stopped and spoke with Marguretta Miller who has lived in the area since 1992 and who now lives with her daughter after storm surge ripped apart her home’s interior.
“Every time I hear them talk they talk about East End and Freeport like West End didn’t get damaged,” she remarked. “West End got damaged too.”
Miller led us through a part of her home to view the extensive damage.
“I don’t have the money to repair my home but if I get help to do it I would,” she mentioned. “I have property on the back road and if I had my own money I would rebuild there.”
Not far away we met Sherica Smith and Graham Smith, proprietors of Shabo’s Fresh Conch Salad stand who were featured in Perspective back in August.
The conch stand was destroyed as were their fishing boats, and seven feet of storm surge flooding has left their family “hustling” to try to carry out home repairs, Sherica pointed out as she sat on the front step of her father’s home where they have decided to set up shop, for now.
“We aren’t getting any government assistance to rebuild,” she said. “The only assistance is when the Americans came and brought groceries.”
Her father, Sherick, chimed in, “We want to repair our home but we just need the assistance. We were not insured so we will need all the assistance we can get and nobody has said anything to the homeowners here about that.”
As we spoke to residents, they informed us that building supplies were being stored at St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church in the area, though they were uncertain of when and how they would be distributed.
Upon our inquiries we were told by St. Mary’s priest Father Pinder that winter residents donated building supplies for distribution by the parish, and that the distribution was scheduled to begin today starting with issuances to approximately 70 church members who submitted requests for assistance in repairing their homes.
Though they are displaced, what has not been uprooted is the resilience of the residents as evidenced by Graham Smith who was hard at work rebuilding his sea-side enterprise.
“We want you to let the country know we are a resilient people,” he affirmed. “We will rise again.”