Desperation mounts Bahamas as shelters turn survivors away
People gather at the port for aid sent by family members and friends in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Bahamas [Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo]
As government officials gave assurances at a news conference that more shelters would be opened as needed, Julie Green and her family gathered outside the headquarters of the island’s emergency management agency, seeking help.
“We need a shelter desperately,” the 35-year-old former waitress from Great Abaco said as she cradled one of her seven-month-old twins on her hip, his little face furrowed. Nearby, her husband held the other twin boy as their four other children wandered listlessly nearby. One continued to cry despite receiving comforting hugs.
Hurricane Dorian devastated the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands in the northern part of the archipelago a week ago, leaving at least 50 dead, with the toll certain to rise as the search for bodies goes on.
Nearly 5,000 people have arrived in Nassau by plane and by boat, and many were struggling to start new lives, unclear of how or where to begin. More than 2,000 of them were staying in shelters, according to government figures.
Green said that shelter officials told her they couldn’t accept such young children, and that the family has slept in the home of a different person every night since arriving Friday in New Providence, the island on which Nassau is situated.
“We’re just exhausted,” she said. “We’re just walking up and down, asking people if they know where we can stay.”
Erick Noel, a 37-year-old landscaper from Abaco with a wife and four children, found himself in the same situation. They will have to leave a friend’s house by Wednesday and had not yet found a shelter where they could stay.
“They are full, full, full,” he said. “I keep looking for a place to go.”
He said he found one small home for his family in Nassau but could not afford the $900 monthly rent. Undeterred, Noel said he would keep searching.
‘It takes time to move through the chaos’
Meanwhile, government officials said they were helping all evacuees and considering building temporary housing, perhaps tent or container cities.
“We are dealing with a disaster,” said Carl Smith, spokesman for the Bahamas’s National Emergency Management Agency. “It takes time to move through the chaos. We are responding to the needs.”
The government has estimated that up to 10,000 people from the Abacos alone will need food, water and temporary housing.
Getting back to Abaco is the dream of Betty Edmond, a 43-year-old cook who picked at some fries with her son and husband in a restaurant at a Nassau hotel, where her nephew is paying for their stay.
They arrived in Nassau on Saturday night after a six-hour boat trip from Abaco and plan to fly to Florida on Wednesday, thanks to plane tickets bought by friends who will provide them with a temporary home until they can find jobs. But the goal is to return, Edmond said.
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“Home will always be home,” she said. “Every day you wish you could go back.”
“You try to keep your hopes up, but -,” she added, her voice trailing off as she shook her head.
Also flying to Florida was 41-year-old Shaneka Russell, who owned Smacky’s Takeaway, a takeout restaurant known for its cracked conch.
The restaurant, named after the noises her son made as a baby, was destroyed by Dorian.
Russell said good Samaritans had taken her and a group of people into their home over the weekend and found them a hotel room in Nassau for a couple of days.
“To know that we were going to a hotel, with electricity and air conditioning and a proper shower, I cried,” she said.
The nearby island of Eleuthera also was taking in evacuees as unmet needs keep growing, said Sadye Francis, director of a nonprofit organisation.
“There are still others that have nowhere to go,” she said. “The true depth of the devastation in Abaco and Grand Bahama is still unfolding.”
Dimple Lightbourne, a 30-year-old Abaco resident now in Nassau, said she could not wait to escape the disaster Dorian left behind.
“I don’t want to see the Bahamas for a while. It’s stressful,” she said. “I want to go to America … This is a new chapter. I’ve ripped all the pages out. Just give me a new book to fill out.”
Facts dispute Trump’s ‘drug dealers’ claim
US Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, members of Trump’s Republican Party, called on the White House to temporarily relax visa requirements for Bahamians wishing to come to the United States.
Trump, who has made restricting immigration a top policy priority, showed little enthusiasm for that idea when asked about it on Monday by reporters.
“Bahamas has some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
Those concerns belied the fact that the US State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, filed to Congress in March, widely praised the Bahamas for its fight against the drug trade. It said the Bahamas is not a significant drug-producing country but that it remains a significant transhipment point for illicit drugs bound for the US.
“During 2018, there was a notable increase in communication, effectiveness, and cooperation between Bahamian law enforcement agencies and the United States,” the report read. “Demand for cocaine within the country remains low.”
Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment mentioned the Bahamas just once, in an anecdote about a drug-carrying ship that was intercepted. That report says that most cocaine, heroin and cannabis entering the US comes through Mexico and Central America. Only seven percent came through the Caribbean in 2017.
In fact, the DEA report stated, there has been an increased drug flow from the continental US to the Caribbean region, as “marijuana users on the US Virgin Islands desire more THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, in their marijuana and are obtaining it from areas in the US where the use of medical marijuana is legal.”