The Bahamas is beginning a long road to recovery from Dorian’s destruction in what Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called “one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history.”
COMPILED FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The extent of Hurricane Dorian’s destruction in the Bahamas – and the humanitarian crisis triggered by the catastrophic storm – came into sharper focus for the rest of the world on Wednesday as official damage assessments and new death counts emerged from the battered archipelago.
At the airport in Nassau, residents desperate to recover loved ones trapped on Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, search and rescue teams, and aid groups organizing shipments of relief supplies to the devastated islands gathered to help the government of the Bahamas begin the long road to recovery.
Public, private efforts
In South Florida, private individuals and charities launched collections of food, water and hygiene kits while others began to prepare for the long rebuilding effort ahead.
And in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., elected officials from both major parties initiated calls for the Trump administration to loosen immigration requirements to allow for those fleeing the storm’s devastation to enter the United States more easily.
But as international governments and aid groups marshaled at the airport, many in the Bahamas’ northwestern islands remained stranded and in need of food, water and shelter.
Jacqueline Hart of Naples nervously awaited information on Wednesday afternoon about relatives missing since the hurricane devastated the Bahamas. An aunt and uncle, their spouses and children in Freeport remained unaccounted for by the Florida Courier’s Wednesday deadline.
Since the storm hit, Hart has been communicating with a brother and another uncle via cell phone.
“I feel helpless,” Hart told the Florida Courier on Wednesday afternoon. She also heard that a distant relative had died in the storm but didn’t have details yet.
From her brother, Mannix Minnis, she learned that their family home in Eight Mile Rock, a settlement outside of Freeport, was demolished by the hurricane.
Minnis, who lived at the home, was safe on Wednesday at a friend’s two-story apartment. He and his girlfriend were able to escape as the waters began to rise.
“He said he had never been so scared in his life,” Hart said.
Another uncle also lost his home. He and his wife had evacuated to an office building he owns in Freeport. His uncle described that what he had left was literally the shirt on his back, a couple of pairs of pants, and the flip flops he was wearing. That’s it.
He was able to go back on Wednesday to check on his home.
“My uncle said his house is totaled. It’s gone,” Hart said. “The house sunk. Everything was underwater. There is no house.”
Hart, 56, who now works in the insurance industry, recalled that it was Hurricane Andrew that forced her to move to Southwest Florida from the Bahamas to work and eventually earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Hart had been on her cell most of Wednesday, trying to connect with family and working to mobilize a relief effort for the Bahamas. She is encouraging people to help however they can.
“They need everything right now from food, hygiene items to bedding,’’ she added.
Trapped for hours
Sandra Cooke was in Nassau waiting for her sister-in-law to be medically evacuated from Marsh Harbor, the capital of Great Abaco, which took the brunt of Dorian’s destructive force.
“My brother’s roof collapsed on her and trapped her for 17 hours,” Cooke said of her sister-in-law. “He wrapped her in a shower curtain … She can’t walk.”
Cooke said they had hired a private helicopter service to evacuate her Thursday.
Bahamian Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said rescuers are still in the initial stages of search, recovery and assessment on the Abaco islands. While the official death toll remains at 7, he said, “Given the magnitude, we expect there will be more.”
After flying over the devastated islands on Tuesday, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called the storm’s aftermath “one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history.”
Though Dorian is clear of the Bahamas, the island nation’s rebuilding is just beginning.
On Wednesday, the Central Bank of the Bahamas loosened lending guidelines for residents and businesses needing hurricane relief. For those sending help from outside the islands, the ministry of finance and customs waived taxes and duties on hurricane relief supplies for individuals and organizations.
Athena Marche, deputy financial secretary, said the customs process has been streamlined to ensure that items can get quickly to those who need them.
Check the charities
Marche also noted that the country’s registrar general has a comprehensive list of charities that individuals should be consulted. NEMA also has a list of charities that are engaged in disaster relief activities.
“It’s important to let the international community know that all persons, private individuals, charities, organizations, will be allowed to come in and to bring items of reliefs,” said Marlon Johnson, acting financial secretary. “There is and there will be a process for persons who want to be NEMA-recognized.”
Johnson said the government doesn’t want to turn away individuals coming to help, but formal recognition of charities is important because it lets individuals know that the organizations are affiliated with the government.
In response to the crisis, Florida Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who has family in the Bahamas, called on the Trump administration and federal lawmakers to make it easier for Bahamians fleeing the storm’s aftermath to enter the United States.
Later in the afternoon on Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida cosigned a letter asking the Trump administration to help by relaxing immigration requirements for Bahamians.
Help on the way
As reports of the humanitarian crisis in the Bahamas circulated, groups in Miami organized collections of relief supplies.
At a Wednesday news conference in Coconut Grove, Sen. Rick Scott and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced that donations for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts would be taken to Nassau Thursday or Friday via Norwegian Cruise Lines. The City of Miami is also sending a team of first responders to assess the injured and provide medical care.
Many in South Florida turned to social media to touch base with loved ones on the islands.
Social media network
In one group chat on WhatsApp that was set up for families searching for loved ones in the Abaco islands, more than 250 people posted more than 700 photos, links and documents after the group was formed on Monday.
Fort Lauderdale resident Walnide Saintilaire, 32, wanted to know if anyone had seen her father’s body. She was asking for a photo to confirm the news she heard: that he had died escaping his home in Murphy Town, Central Abaco, over the weekend.
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP THE BAHAMAS
National Association of The Bahamas Hurricane Relief Fund: http://www.nabmiami.org/donate
United Way Operation Helping Hands: http://www.unitedwaymiami.org
Water, ice, non-perishable food, family hygiene kits (tissue, toothpaste, toothbrushes, towels, sanitary napkins), cleaning supplies (bleach, mops, brooms, disinfectants, garbage bags, sponges), baby items/supplies, plastic water bottles, cots, blankets, portable toilets, flashlights, batteries, insect repellents (DEET-free), cooking utensils, temporary housing, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, plywood, shingles, generators, chain saws, shovels, disposable utensils, power banks, solar-powered chargers, portable radios, cloth bags, biodegradable bags, first aid kits, and first-aid items (bandages, gauges, tape).
DROP-OFF LOCATIONS (partial list)
Miami-Dade County: Miami-Dade County Main Library. Stephen P. Clark Center. Joseph Caleb Center. Office of Emergency Management Warehouse. City of Miami fire stations. Christ Episcopal Church, Coconut Grove. Sapoznik Insurance, North Miami Beach. Law Offices of Andre Pierre, North Miami. CMS International, Miami Gardens. Chopsticks Miami, Cutler Bay. HGT Ministries, Goulds. Florida City Police Department. Gasca Auto Care, Homestead.
Broward County: Tropix Shipping, Shelter Aviation, Jetscape Alpha FBO Hangar, all in Fort Lauderdale. Feet to Faith Family Services (Glory Seekers Church), North Lauderdale. Koinonia Worship Center & Village, Pembroke Park. Elnet Maritime Agency, Pompano Beach.
Palm Beach County: Palm Beach Outlets, West Palm Beach (drop off at Customer Service in the food pavilion). Cafe Sweets Bakery, West Palm Beach. Judge Rodgers Community Center, Riviera Beach. (Accepting only generators, wet vacs, chainsaws, and water pumps.) Plantation Boat Mart, Palm Beach Gardens.
Monroe County: Plantation Boat Mart & Marina.
For more information, contact the Consulate General of The Bahamas, 305-373-6295, www. bahamasconmiami.com. On Facebook and on Instagram: @bahamasconmiami #BahamaStrong #HurricaneDorian #HurricaneReliefBahamas
Miami Herald staff writers Jim Wyss, Jacqueline Charles, Daniel Chang, Alex Daugherty, Samantha J. Gross, Douglas Hanks, Nora Gamez Torres and Martin Vassolo all contributed to this story.