Bahamians wait for hours in hopes of leaving Grand Bahama Islands on a ship
A single one-dollar Bahamian bill holed up in the middle pocket of her wallet was the only money Ann Smith held onto as she sat on the eighth deck of the cruise ship, waiting to be let off.
“This is all I have,” she said, surveying her soiled yellow slippers and tan handbag — the little she managed to rescue from Dorian’s claws, “but I feel good now because I got to leave. When I came on the cruise... that was the first time I smiled since I heard about the storm last week.”
Smith’s ship, Bahamian Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration, docked at the Port of Palm Beach about 8 a.m. Saturday, escorted by Palm Beach County choppers and boats.
It was returning from a humanitarian mission to Freeport, Bahamas, where it delivered about 225,000 pounds of supplies, including water, food, personal hygiene products and generators. It returned to Palm Beach with about 1,100 Bahamians.
The trip delivered the first good night’s sleep and warm meal to most island evacuees.
Sharika Moss, 33, said when she first hopped inside her stateroom’s shower, she felt like she was drowning.
“It’s silly, but after not doing it for a while, you forget what it feels like,” she said.
At the port, a small army of county workers, police, firefighters, assorted emergency responders, volunteers, and health department and Customs and Border Protection officials were waiting.
After the Bahamian families made their way through the immigration officials, some applauded and cheered. When they exited the port, they hugged their relatives.
At least four Palm Tran county buses lined up outside, ready to take some passengers to the nearest Tri-Rail station and to different vehicle rental companies, said Yaremi Farinas, the Port of Palm Beach public information officer.
The buses parked near the Red Cross station, which was packed with water bottles and snacks for the evacuees, sweating under the blistering sun.
“It was a brutally hot day out. I mean it was it was just disgustingly hot. I haven’t felt this heat in forever. We were glad we were prepared to make sure everyone was safe,” Farinas said. “Thank God it went smoothly. It just took a lot of people teaming up together.”
Farinas said that as of midday Saturday, none of the passengers disembarking had requested to be taken to a shelter. Instead, all of them had arranged for a family member or a friend to pick them up.
Smith, 71, traveled with one of her daughters and a granddaughter. She asked another daughter who lives in Palm Beach to pick her up from the port and plans to live with another granddaughter who has an apartment in Miami.
Hurricane Dorian wrecked her home in the Sunrise Division of Back-of-Town in Freeport. She had been paying an $800-mortgage on it for about 10 years since losing her first house to Wilma in 2005. Now she’s unsure if it’s worth going back home eventually or not. She had no home insurance.
After her husband died in 2000, Smith lived in Bal Harbour for four years — she traveled every six months back to Freeport and stayed there for two weeks, then came back to Florida to maintain her visa. If she doesn’t get enough help to rebuild, she said she has considered doing that again or just staying in Florida indefinitely.
Smith is the proud owner a souvenir shop at Freeport Harbour called Ann and Denise Bahamian Souvenirs, but is keenly aware no tourists will visit the island anytime soon.
So what she’ll do first as soon as she gets settled, she said, is start job-hunting.
“I could do anything; I love to work,” she said. “I’ll try to get a job as a nanny or a housekeeper.”
Probably as early as Sunday morning, Smith will start making phone calls and applying for work.
And hopefully soon enough, she said, she’ll multiply the Bahamian dollar that now sits securely in her wallet.