The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing an additional $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the Bahamas to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco last month.
The additional aid, announced by USAID Administrator Mark Green, who is currently touring the island nation, brings the total U.S. government response to more than $33 million, the agency said. A 30-member disaster assistance response team remains on the ground to steer U.S. aid and help in the recovery of the islands where communications and electricity are still being restored.
In a recent interview with McClatchy, Green said the U.S. is focusing its aid on providing shelter for those worst affected by the storm and educational assistance for students who have fallen behind in school.
“Storms always disproportionately affect the poor,” Green said. “By definition, many are living in the margins. They don’t have the homes that can withstand a storm like this. A lot of people fled. So providing housing, shelter, that can help these people as the country gets back on its feet. That’s something we’re exploring.”
On his first trip to the Bahamas in the aftermath of Dorian, Green said he witnessed a scene that he described as exceptional: rocks torn apart and swirled piles of debris. “I haven’t seen anything quite like it,” he said.
The government said the storm, which made landfall on Sept. 1, left 60 confirmed deaths, and reduced much of Abaco and its surrounding cays to rubble while leaving homes on Grand Bahama with holes in their roofs. Thousands were left without shelter and food. About 600 people are still reported missing, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said last week during the United Nations General Assembly.
“It is a generational tragedy for the Bahamas,” Minnis said about Dorian. “Hurricane Dorian, an unprecedented destructive force of wind, and rain and sea surge, ripped into the islands of the northern Bahamas.”
Recounting the storm’s terror, he told world leaders that at its peak, Dorian had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts of over 220 mph. Storm surges were between 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels.
Since the storm, many fled for Florida, while others went to the capital of Nassau and neighboring islands where they remain in need of assistance.
USAID has dispatched Tim Callaghan, who led the agency’s response to the Haitian earthquake, to lead the disaster response team in the Bahamas. He is working on an After Action Report that will provide an autopsy on the event, including whether the storm’s impact was fueled by changes in climate.
“This is a country that can rebuild, and I expect will rebuild in very good ways,” Green said. “We can help with strategic planning.”
USAID said the majority of the new $7.5 million funding will go to Samaritan’s Purse, which is operating a field hospital at Rand Memorial Hospital on Grand Bahama Island. The nonprofit will also use some of the funding to pay for repairs to water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure and the provision of emergency water supplies in communities affected by Dorian’s Category 5 winds and rains; emergency and transitional shelter for families whose homes were destroyed; and help in the removal of debris to help people get back into their homes.
Minnis last month announced the creation of a new ministry, Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction. It is being headed by lawmaker Iram Lewis, a former Olympic sprinter.
On Friday, the Bahamas government awarded contracts for the shantytowns in Abaco, which was the hardest hit of the islands. Crews have started to clean up the Pigeon Pea, one of three shanties where many of the island’s Haitian migrants lived. The government has issued an interdiction preventing any rebuilding in the shanties.
On Monday, crews were using heavy machinery to move some of the debris in Pigeon Pea, which had been untouched since Dorian slammed the island over the Labor Day weekend. Abaco itself remains very much a ghost town even as some business owners slowly trickle back and others had vowed to remain. Police on the island also reported that they had recovered the bodies of an adult black male and female, bringing the death toll to 60. Search and recovery efforts are ongoing.
In the aftermath of Dorian, the Trump administration, which closely monitored the storm’s progression, partnered with the Bahamian government, charitable organizations and the private sector to provided humanitarian relief. That relief included food as well as 53 metric tons of items — including plastic sheeting, water buckets, and hygiene kits — from USAID’s warehouse in Miami, and logistics support from the U.S. Coast Guard.
USAID also deployed a search and rescue team from Virginia to the Bahamas to help in the search for bodies.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who is of Bahamian descent, said on Tuesday that legislation she introduced to provide Temporary Protected Status to Bahamians in the U.S. who have been displaced by Dorian now has 100 co-sponsors. Wilson, D-Miami, said the legislation would designate TPS for the Bahamas for 18 months.