FREEPORT, GRAND BAHAMA — More than a month after Hurricane Dorian rampaged through the Bahamas — killing at least dozens and causing billions in damages — everything still seems soaked.
Thunderstorms drenching the area this week were just a reminder of recent miseries of early September — when the island nation endured its worst natural disaster in modern history.
Unlike Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, where large areas were obliterated, Grand Bahama and large areas of Freeport sustained heavy damage.
The popular tourist destination withstood more than 24 hours of hurricane force winds as Hurricane Dorian stalled — and weakened from a Category 5 storm to a 3 — near Grand Bahama in the first three days of September.
Throughout the Bahamas, it is estimated 70,000 are homeless after the storm that did at least $5 billion in damages. The official death toll is 60 with the number of missing exceeding 600 as of Thursday. But those figures are considered low by nonprofits and other agencies in the area. They believe more than 1,000 to 1,500 are missing.
A drive through portions of Freeport showcase the innards of homes laid to waste outside. Tube televisions, drywall and mattresses — seemingly all the mattresses — crowd the edges of streets. Eventually, the people have been told, the government will pick it all up and take most of their worldly possessions to the garbage dump.
One resident spoke of a troubling future in the next few years.
While people are living under roofs, thousands of homes will soon be uninhabitable due to mold.
And many homeowners without electricity may stay without it — not just for days or weeks or months, but possibly permanently.
“One woman told me she’d probably never have power again,” Pastor Ken Lane said.
Local rules dictate that if a home is flooded, a licensed electrical inspector has to look at all the outlets and give an OK before any work to restore power can begin.
Just the cost of an inspection is prohibitive for many Freeport residents.
It’s too much for too many so some may live without power — and with mold — for years to come.
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However, this month, the people are just coping with the realities.
“We need to have patience,” a woman named Lisa said as she stood in a line to pick up donated items at a center under a large tent. “We know this.”
The line out front of the center grew quickly.
Lisa stood with an elderly woman, walking through wet grass and mud. Both would receive boxes where they would be able to gather up canned foods, drinks and hygiene essentials, along with bottled water.
Teenage volunteers throw the cases of water on their shoulders and take it to some cars of the people in need. Nearby at a storage facility, goods are coming in and being offloaded for distribution.
Lane said the large objects that people would appreciate having are bed mattresses. Some residents are trying to dry them out, but it’s largely a lost cause. Mattresses are one of the more expensive items in a home — and an item people tend to not appreciate until it’s gone.
Smaller items are available, though.
Songs of worship from a speaker aired while some people danced and children played while waiting in line for necessities. The residents are working together in these moments. Lisa isn’t frightened of the future — but she knows human nature doesn’t always stay patient.
“We are going to keep needing water, just even some basics,” she said. “Don’t forget us.”
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Local leaders continue to work together to marshal whatever resources are available. Tons of aid have come in from the United States through Agape Flights out of Venice and other nonprofit organizations.
Agape Flight CEO Allen Speer was happy to see several ladders Agape put on a plane days ago in a distribution center on one of the islands. A part of his tour was to ensure items are making it from Venice to the hardest struck areas of the Bahamas.
The volunteers at the distribution center weren’t quite sure where the ladders were from.
“This is ours,” he said, quietly satisfied, referring to ladders Agape received from a Venice nonprofit called Waste to Charity.
Later, near Freeport, he and other Agape officials and a tour guide stop at some distribution centers to talk to leaders and see what is needed and how it can get from America to the Bahamas quicker.
A storage unit site has been re-purposed as a basic distribution center along some of the busier streets in Freeport. Not the entire area has been damaged, but large areas are.
And the Grand Bahama International Airport, although open, was heavily damaged. Planes, barely recognizable, were trashed by the storm surge that flooded the airport during Hurricane Dorian. Some remain outside the airport’s property, pushed through or over fences.
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From above, many of the small cays of the Bahamas are brown and black. Days underwater or flooded by the hurricane has killed off a lot of vegetation that needed fresh water.
Pastor Ken Lane of Freeport’s Lucaya Presbyterian Church said it was one of the regrettable facts. It had been a lush season for trees and grasses.
Now the green seems to be mainly the seawater surrounding the Bahamas.
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But there will be recovery, Lane said. He said a recent meeting between local officials and outside groups found a common theme. People in Freeport know news cycles change and Hurricane Dorian has fallen off the proverbial radar.
“One of the things a lot of the people in the room said was ‘Don’t forget us,’” Lane said.
“We’re still here. We’re still dealing with it and will be for a long time. This is something that is going to take years to get back from.”