Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas on September 1 as a category five storm, the second-strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic. The storm devastated the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. It produced a still-rising death toll of 50, and more than 1,000 people are still unaccounted for on the islands.
With the U.S. denial of Temporary Protected Status for affected Bahamians and other storms brewing in the Atlantic, the plight of the nearly 15,000 residents in need of food, shelter, and other basic necessities is dire.
In New York City, the Bahamas Consulate General and the Bahamian American Association are working together to deliver aid to the islands. The association and others like it are encouraging people to donate needed supplies at the consulates’ drop-off locations. “We are taking non-perishable items, feminine products, toiletries, batteries and water,” says consular assistant Jonathan Farrington. “These are being packaged and will be sent directly to the Bahamas.”
Despite the efforts of and donations from people across the United States, Bahamian American Association President Andrew Albury, who visited the affected islands last Saturday, doubts the recovery process will be as speedy as people hope. “I can’t speak on the government’s behalf,” he says. “I can’t say next month they are going to have it all cleaned up. It’s going to take years to get that straightened out because of such a large loss of life.”
The death toll is expected to rise as rescue and recovery teams reach further into decimated areas. Albury also notes there were many undocumented Haitians on the islands who have not been found. “The government had no idea how many illegal Haitian [immigrants] were there, how many left or stayed behind and refused to move,” he says. “So they basically are going to have to do a body count.”
In Miami, Ander Urdaneta, a Florida International University student and avid boater who frequently visits the Bahamas, decided to gather donations and personally deliver them to people still stranded. Urdaneta, along with his brother Ender Urdaneta and friends Michele Quercia and Nicole Galli, founder of Sun.Risas, a non-profit organization that supports communities across the world, arrived on September 7 at Freeport, Grand Bahama, where the damage was less severe.
Once the news spread that Urdaneta and his team were headed to Abaco, some Freeport dwellers donated, even though they themselves were stiil lacking basic necessities such as electricity and water. “They pulled out the donations people had given them” and said to us, “Those people need it more than we do, please help them,” says Urdaneta.
Urdaneta then traveled to Sandy Point on Great Abaco, where he learned nearby areas had not yet received any assistance. The team drove approximately one hour to reach those who were most severely affected by the storm. “When we arrived to Sandy Point, no government entity had arrived to aid the locals,” he says. “There was only debris. Maybe one or two structures that are barely standing remain, but there is nothing.”
Despite Bahamians’ precarious situation, Urdaneta remembers the contagious joy he received from the residents. “This is why every time I come here, I fall more in love with it,” he says. “How is it possible that this is a disaster, there is nothing here, and they keep having that smile on their face?”
Urdaneta and his friends are planning another trip to the Bahamas to deliver more aid, but after funding the first trip with their own money and the help of a few donations, they are struggling to fund a second one. Click here to contribute and learn more.
If you live in South Florida and would like to contribute to general Bahamas relief efforts, the South Florida Media Network has compiled a list of resources. In New York City you can drop off donations at the Bahamas Consulate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Call (212) 421-6420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.