After Dorian, Bahamas tackles massive clean-up
High Rock, Bahamas – Pastor Jeremiah Saunders stood in the golden afternoon sun and barely blinked as he debated what to pick out from the ruins of the church he built 22 years ago in the seaside village of High Rock on the eastern end of Grand Bahama island.
A black-and-blue necktie floated in a pool of water. Nearby, a ruptured set of drums lay toppled on its side. Bone-white sea shells were nestled in tufts of grass, flung there by the surging floodwaters that had carried Saunders for 200 yards until he managed to grab hold of a large pine tree branch, where he spent two days after Hurricane Dorian crashed ashore.
“I spoke to the water: ‘Peace, be still.’ It never listened,” he said with a wide smile. But then he grew serious as he focused on the daunting cleanup facing the tens of thousands who live on Grand Bahama and Abaco, the two northern islands that were devastated by the Category 5 storm.
It will be a slow process that some are tackling in very small steps. Saunders picked out two hammers, five screwdrivers and three treasured Bibles.
In contrast, 67-year-old Mary Glinton in the nearby fishing village of McLean’s Town wasted no time getting rid of all her ruined possessions. She created three piles of clothes stiffened by mud and set them on fire. A once-white lace curtain, a muddied pink wind-breaker and a pair of black pants all went into the flames. She lamented that all her church clothes were ruined.
“I love blue, and most of my dresses are blue,” she said standing near the fire in green flip-flops, her legs caked with mud. She also mourned the loss of her 1-year-old pet hog, Princess.
A preliminary report estimates Dorian caused some $7 billion in damage, but the government has not yet offered any figures. Crews have started to remove some debris on the islands, but they are moving slowly to avoid accidentally disturbing any bodies lying in the rubble. The official death toll stands at 50, and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said he expects the number to significantly increase.
About 2,500 people are listed as missing in the hurricane’s aftermath, although the government has cautioned that it still needs to check names against the rosters of people evacuated from the devastated islands or staying in shelters.
On Thursday, a cluster of heavy thunderstorms heading to the Bahamas threatened to further drench those trying to salvage belongings or living in tents in hard-hit communities. Late in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the system was expected to become a tropical storm within 36 hours and would hit parts of the northwestern Bahamas with tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains.
USAID officials, meanwhile, said they would distribute plastic sheeting ahead of the storm.
As the cleanup continued, the first hints of normalcy could be seen in Freeport, a city on Grand Bahama that is operated by a private company, which provides utilities and charges residents without any government involvement. Lights began to flicker on in some neighborhoods, and crews were seen repairing transformers in other areas.
Among those celebrating the return of electricity was Clifton Williams, who was driving home from work on Wednesday when he saw an illuminated streetlight for the first time since the hurricane.
“I didn’t expect that so quickly,” he said. “First thing I do, I cut on the fan and cool off myself,” he added, saying he slept well for the first time in more than a week thanks to the fan.