Fabiola Santiago

Catastrophic Hurricane Dorian has devastated the Bahamas. Let’s help, Florida. Donate | Opinion

They’re a sister island chain to Florida, linked by history, geography, business, tourism — plus family ties and heritage.

Yes, a whole lot of partying, a whole lot of profiting has gone on between us, too.

And now, the people of the Bahamas need us.

Even as it skirts our coast, it’s safe to say Florida seems to have been spared from the worst-case scenario, but catastrophic Hurricane Dorian has utterly devastated the Bahamas.

The hurricane made landfall on the chain of beautiful, vulnerable islands as a Category 5, the storm hovering over Grand Bahama for a day and a half, spinning a deadly combination of wind and surge that flat-lined homes, businesses, and turned yards into oceans of waist-high water.

The devastation caused by 165-mile-per-hour winds and storm surge as high as 23 feet we’re seeing on video from places like the Abacos is reminiscent of Hurricane Maria’s path through Puerto Rico in 2017.

The death toll stands at five as of this writing, but the storm, centered 45 miles north of Freeport, continued to batter the Bahamas with life-threatening surge as it very slowly moved northwest.

Miami-Dade, the City of Miami, state lawmakers, the Florida congressional delegation, and civic groups have wasted no time and called in the cavalry to help the Bahamas with relief and recovery.

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State Rep. Kionne McGee, D-South Dade, told me that he has been working closely with Iram Lewis, who represents Central Grand Bahama in Parliament and is also parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Public Works.

“He has committed to ensuring that all resources will be distributed fairly and will reach the people,” McGee said. “He represents the hardest hit communities. He and his team are prepared to receive resources to deliver them person by person and door by door.”

Among the items needed: First-aid kits, tarps, generators, bottled water, flashlights, and portable stoves.

It is important that aid distribution be documented to avoid past disaster relief shortcomings.

There are not only scammers out there already, but there’s skepticism after what happened to some of the aid sent to Haiti, post earthquake and hurricanes, as well as to Puerto Rico. Critical supplies sat undistributed. Some were stolen. Dollars didn’t end up in the hands of the poorest and most in need, but with the politically connected.

“Accountability must be at the forefront,” McGee agrees.

In Miami-Dade and Broward, collection points have been set up at fire stations to address a list of needs sent by the Bahamian government. The United Way is handling monetary donations, pledging that every cent will go to directly aid victims. And celebrity chef José Andrés is already in Nassau to feed Bahamians as he did in Puerto Rico with his World Central Kitchen.

This is the best side of us.

We rush in with our resources — and help.

Bahamians, after all, were among Miami’s first settlers.

They are us.

Did you know that Bahamians made up one third of the vote to incorporate the city of Miami in 1896? They were the first people of the Caribbean to settle here, and they made Miami the second-largest city with a foreign-born black population after New York back then.

Let’s help them recuperate.

Donate to relief efforts.

Sending all that water we hoarded to the Bahamians is the best use for those plastic bottles.

It’s time to give back, to rush with our vessels and resources to the aid our neighbors, islands where so many of us have made — and will make in the future — memories we treasure.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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