Hurricane Dorian dealt a shattering blow to the islands of the Bahamas. Now, South Florida, which dodged it, is responding to its neighbors’ plight in a big way.
From Pembroke Pines to Miami’s Coconut Grove, South Floridians have rapidly geared up for a broad and potentially massive relief effort to collect and deliver immediate aid to afflicted Bahamians. As private boat owners and pilots offered use of their craft to ferry supplies across to the worst-hit islands, local governments, churches, charities and volunteers launched drives to collect donations of basic supplies at dozens of sites.
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade unveiled quickly drawn plans to send donated relief supplies out to the Bahamas from a temporary warehouse at the privately run Youth Fair exhibition hall, a facility that’s been tapped to serve as the central hub for materials collected across the county.
The Bahamas requested the Miami area to set up a central warehouse for the effort, with the public asked to drop off supplies at multiple locations across Miami-Dade.
“As a country, we’re humbled by the support,” Linda Mackey, consul general in Miami for the Bahamas, said at a County Hall press conference called by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “We are in urgent need of help.”
The county on Tuesday announced four locations that are accepting donations for the Bahamas, expanding what’s expected to be one of the broadest relief drives in Miami-Dade history. The county locations include County Hall and the main Miami-Dade Public Library in downtown Miami.
Other local governments, along with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the Archdiocese of Miami’s Catholic Charities and other nonprofits, have announced drop-off spots for supplies or ways to make financial contributions.
According to the Bahamas foreign ministry, the list of most urgently needed items includes hygiene kits (diapers, baby wipes, sanitary napkins, toothpaste), radios, batteries, insect repellent, chain saws, portable generators and portable toilets.
“We know our community has been a beacon of hope for so many people who have gone through hurricanes, earthquakes and other crises,” Gimenez said. “We have a strong bond with our brothers and sisters in the Bahamian chain of islands.”
Joining the county effort, City of Miami officials announced plans to send donated supplies from the city’s 14 fire stations and two churches in West Coconut Grove, a community founded by Bahamian immigrants a century ago.
Descendants of the settlers, many with close family in the island chain, were among the first to start collecting supplies even as they anxiously watched coverage of Dorian’s agonizingly slow pummeling of Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands.
The hurricane raked the northern Bahamian islands for more than a day with 150 mph winds and a massive surge of water that inundated much of the low-lying land before slowly pulling away on Tuesday.
“We have all seen the images of devastation in the Bahamas,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said at a press conference Tuesday, standing in front of a stockpile of donated supplies at Fire Station 8 in Coconut Grove. “We will continue [to collect items] for as long as we have to.”
Miami’s Little Haiti was also organizing a drive. The Bahamas is home to thousands of Haitian immigrants, some of whom live in vulnerable shantytowns on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, and many in South Florida’s Haitian community passed through the nation on their way here.
Konscious Kontractors, a Little Haiti nonprofit, said it has set up a collection point next to the famed Chef Creole restaurant, at the Muce305 facility at 246 NW 54th St. The group is also seeking volunteers to help handle donations.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters over there,” Konscious Kontractors said in a statement.
Major Florida tourism companies, including Disney, will also make large donations and undertake other assistance programs.
Miami-based Royal Caribbean International pledged $1 million to Dorian disaster relief in the Bahamas, to be distributed in coordination with the Bahamian government and a network of island groups. The company said it is also loading goods onto its ships, including generators, water, cleaning supplies and sheets and towels, for delivery to the islands.
The Walt Disney Company, led by Disney Cruise Line, also announced it would provide $1 million in cash to Bahamian relief organizations in addition to food staples and construction materials to aid in relief and recovery efforts.
Its employees in the Bahamas, including some 60 workers on Disney Castaway Cay who live on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, will receive “access to a range of resources,” the company said.
With Dorian still battering the Bahamas, a group of Broward business owners mobilized Monday to start collecting medical supplies, tarps, diapers and cash to help those impacted by the storm.
At Riverside Market’s Plantation location, boxes of diapers, bags of soap and other necessities started to pile up near the wooden tables where customers ate dinner and drank beer.
“So many people started asking what could we do,” said Lisa Siegel, co-founder of Riverside Market. “We knew there would be a need right away.”
Chris Rotella, with The Rotella Group, said several people have stepped up to help fly the supplies to the Bahamas or bring them by boat. The group is also working with the nonprofit Songwriters in Paradise to collect financial donations and buy needed supplies, including baby food and soap. By Tuesday evening, their GoFundMe page had raised about $200,000.
Michael Capponi, whose Global Empowerment Mission provides disaster relief and has in recent years collected supplies after hurricanes Maria and Michael, is raising money to fund rescue flights to the Bahamas.
Capponi, a Miami nightlife promoter, said in an interview with the Miami Herald that his nonprofit has partnered with Tropic Ocean Airways, which owns sea planes that can fly back and forth between South Florida and the Bahamas once private flights are greenlighted by the U.S. and Bahamian governments.
The flights will transport teams from Blue Tide Marine, a private contractor that hires former Navy SEALS and will help with search-and-rescue efforts, as well as donated supplies collected by the city and county.
“Someone has to pay for the gas, the pilots. Although they’re our partner, there are still substantial fees,” Capponi said.
On its Instagram account, Blue Tide Marine said “our teams will be conducting reconnaissance missions to assess the damage, create a communication network, and help to reopen existing airports as well as determine safe landing locations for our seaplanes. We will deliver medical support, along with food and water.”
Capponi is also collecting supplies — mainly gas-powered generators and chain saws — at a Little Haiti warehouse at 340 NE 59th Terrace, Miami, to be taken by chartered barge to the Bahamas.
José Andrés, the chef known for serving nearly 4 million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, is routing his Bahamas relief effort through South Florida. His nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, will sail a 240-foot yacht with a helipad out of Port Everglades on Wednesday morning, bound for Freeport. The ship is loaded with supplies and will serve as a mobile headquarters for several pop-up kitchens the organization will establish in Abaco.
Andrés is already in Nassau, where his team prepared more than 10,000 meals over the weekend in the donated kitchen of the Atlantis resort. He posted video of himself on Twitter flying to Abaco to stake out the pop-up kitchen locations.
“Heading now to deliver meals and hopefully identify spot(s) for cooking on Abaco,” Andrés wrote. “May stay night!! No electricity or phones will work there but will share when we can.”
Herald Staff Writers David Smiley, Carli Teproff, Carlos Frias and Samantha J. Gross contributed to this report.