Removing Hurricane Debris Is A Top Priority In The Bahamas

Oct 2, 2019
Originally published on October 2, 2019 10:40 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Hurricane Dorian slammed into the northern Bahamas as a Category 5 storm a month ago. In the town of Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, there are no grocery stores, no banks, no shops at all. As the island tries to bounce back, it's caught in this Catch-22 - people have left because the island can't support them, but residents can't go home and rebuild until there are houses and jobs and grocery stores. NPR's Jason Beaubien brought us this story from Marsh Harbour.

(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER ROLLING)

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Bulldozers have started to clear vast fields of debris in what used to be a shantytown called The Mudd.

(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER BEEPING)

BEAUBIEN: The entire neighborhood was flattened by Dorian, and many bodies have been recovered from here. Almost every structure was destroyed after more than 12 feet of water and winds gusting above 200 miles per hour pummeled the area. But it wasn't just wooden shacks torn apart in Marsh Harbour. Neighborhoods of solid concrete buildings were flattened. A large, steel-framed cement factory was crushed like an abused Slinky. A lot of homes disappeared entirely.

Sylvan McIntyre, who's been running the emergency operations center for Abaco, says removing the hurricane debris is one of the top priorities right now.

SYLVAN MCINTYRE: The removal of debris is critical. It's something that helps the psyche of people.

BEAUBIEN: McIntyre says removing the debris sends a signal that things are moving forward. And it gives a boost to the economy.

MCINTYRE: It helps you feel that there's a sense of greater hope and a sense of things happening. And that is the process that we are beginning to move. And the government - the state has actually signed on to some contracts with some waste removal people. So that process is going to happen.

BEAUBIEN: But down at the dock, some residents continue to leave the island, at least for the short term. A boat known as the Fast Ferry has just pulled in. A crowd of people have surrounded the cargo master and are trying to make sure that their belongings will get loaded on board.

(CROSSTALK)

BEAUBIEN: The cargo master is saying that he's already overloaded with cars and cargo that he has to haul back to Nassau.

Sean Williams had packed up the last of his belongings from his house in Marsh Harbour onto a pallet that's now sitting on the dock. He complains that the cars shouldn't get priority and says the worst part is the hecticness of this whole process.

SEAN WILLIAMS: But the hecticness is about getting everything on the boat - getting it on the boat. That's the problem everybody get.

BEAUBIEN: Another problem for people on Abaco right now is food. For people who've been able to stay in their homes, there's still no electricity in most of the island. Bottled gas distribution depots were destroyed. The government has brought in mobile propane filling trucks, but even if people are able to prepare their own food, there's nowhere to buy it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK. What kind?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Ham and cheese.

BEAUBIEN: World Central Kitchen - the charity project of celebrity chef Jose Andres - has become the main supplier of meals on the island of Abaco. No one has an exact figure of how many people remain, but it had a population of 17,000 before Dorian. Thousands have left. Yet, World Central Kitchen is now serving more than 6,000 meals a day here.

SAM BLOCH: And here we're at our office, kind of our dispatch center.

BEAUBIEN: Sam Bloch is the director of field operations for World Central Kitchen. In a shipping container right next to their massive outdoor-cooking operation, Bloch points to a map showing 70 different locations up and down the island where they send food.

BLOCH: We're still hitting Moore's Island and the Cays up here via helicopter from our kitchen in Nassau.

BEAUBIEN: Other aid agencies have also been offering people food. But Bloch says in the midst of this crisis, it's important to be offering people a fresh, hot meal.

BLOCH: It can make you feel like a human again. That's why, for us, doing it on time and regularly is really important so that, you know, there is some stability and some normalcy in an otherwise very chaotic situation.

BEAUBIEN: The chaos here is less than it was a few weeks ago. There are signs that things are improving. But it's also clear it's going to take months, possibly years, to get this place back to something resembling normal. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Marsh Harbour, The Bahamas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.