Residents of Grand Bahama recount their survival stories during Hurricane Dorian
Sitting in front of a destroyed primary school doubling as a precarious homeless shelter, Alan Alexandre clutched a small backpack, rocked himself and cried.
Many of his neighbors — also left destitute by Hurricane Dorian — were heading to the dock or the airport to try to catch free rides back to Nassau, where they had family and friends. Alexandre said there was only one place he belonged: Miami.
Alexandre, 46, spent more than half his life in South Florida before “getting in trouble” and getting deported to his native Bahamas — a country he barely knew.
But now that his life is upside down he yearns to be close to his sister in the United States. A woman he hasn’t been able to call as communications remain largely offline.
“They don’t even know I’m alive,” he said. “Please let them know.”
The Bahamas and South Florida lie just 180 miles or so apart and ties run deep. Almost everyone on Abaco seems to have a connection across the straits. And after Dorian raked the island as a Category 5 monster almost a week ago, many have dreams of starting over there.
Bahamians are allowed to travel to the United States on the basis of a clean criminal record. But some U.S. politicians have been asking for Washington to extend Temporary Protected Status to Dorian refugees and broaden the criteria for entry.
Dorian did so much deep and lasting damage that it’s easy to see why an exodus is underway. There’s no power and no water. The island’s only radio station is off the air. The businesses that drove the economy — the hotels, the harbors, the restaurants — are gone. So is most of the housing.
Along with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others, Herod Innocend had come to the dock in Marsh Harbour at 3 a.m. Saturday in hopes of catching a boat ride to Nassau. But that’s just the first leg of a trip that he hopes will ultimately end in West Palm Beach, where he has family.
“There’s no food, no water,” he said, gesturing to Abaco at large. “There’s nothing left to live for here, not right now. We got to go.”
For those staying behind, aid is coming in. Ships, boats and aircraft are bringing in water, food and other critical supplies. Helicopters buzz the sky moving the injured and elderly.
While crews are starting to clear road debris, the process is excruciatingly slow for many.
As a group of people at the dock complained that they hadn’t seen work crews trying to repair the splintered power poles and tangled cables, a man chimed in.
“There’s nothing to connect them to,” he said. “I just drove by the power plant. It’s destroyed.”
Amid the mass evacuation, the area around Marsh Harbour was growing eerily quiet Saturday. Gasoline has grown scarce (there’s not a single gas station functioning in the community) and traffic has thinned. Some aid groups — even those with vital services — were finding it difficult to get around.
It just added to the sense that reconstruction could take months, if not longer.
“Even if you wanted to rebuild where would you put the workers?” one man asked. “There are no homes left standing.”
Junette Vil, 48, had also arrived at the dock in the predawn hours Saturday with three of her children.
A Haitian native, Vil has lived in Abaco, population 17,000, almost 30 years but says she has no family to turn to in the Bahamas. As she was desperately trying to get on a boat to Nassau, she said she couldn’t stay there. “There are no doors open for me,” she explained. “No family.”
Instead, she would like to stay with her aunt, uncle and cousins in Fort Lauderdale and try to pick up the pieces. She’s visited the United States three times in the past, but currently has no visa.
Asked if she would come back to Abaco once it has been repaired, she said the city had punished her once too often.
“I’ve lost three houses here, two to fires and now this one to Dorian,” she said. “Every time I build a house it mash up.”
Back at the school-turned-shelter, textbooks were floating, bloated, in a flooded classroom. Parts of the schools roofing and insulation were strewn across the playground.
Alexandre said he was staying there — sleeping on the floor — because he had no options. While he was being offered a trip to Nassau, he said he was scared of the city’s crime.
“It’s a jungle over there,” he said. Another man leaned in to the conversation: “It’s not joke over there. It’s Pakistan.”
And so Alexandre — a construction worker — will likely become a reluctant part of Abaco’s reconstruction.
Setting aside his fantasies about a family reunion in Miami, Alexandre said he had another message for his sister.
“Let her know I’ve got some cuts and stuff,” he said. “But I’m OK.”