VENICE — More than a month after Hurricane Dorian stalled over the Bahamas and ripped islands of it into disaster zones, Agape Flights out of Venice continue to work to help its people with physical and spiritual needs.
West Villages residents have been among those providing support through financial and supply gifts to the nonprofit. Most recently, a check was presented to Agape Flights after the annual Gran Paradiso Walk-A-Thon.
Agape Flights, which was started about 40 years ago, has received an estimated 170,000 pounds of donations and already distributed about 116,00 pounds of those supplies
About 1,300 donors have helped with financial gifts of more than $350,000.
The group has completed more than 20 emergency flights to the Bahamas — including Abaco Island, considered the area of the most significant destruction. On a recent visit, parts of Marsh Harbor were in bleak conditions with entire neighborhoods gone.
Lydia Ruth Hill, who is the ninth generation of her family to live on Abaco, evacuated her parent’s coastal home but watched it disintegrate over the next day. She spoke to the Sun by cellphone Thursday night.
“From my brother’s apartment, we can see my parent’s house,” she said. “From the window, we watched the roof come off. My dad has a 42-foot boat and we saw (the storm) overturn it — it’s now 250 feet away from the water.”
Two of her relatives are missing.
The relatives, an elderly brother and sister, “were living on Front Street of Abaco — that doesn’t even exist anymore,” Hill said. “Anyone who has been found has just been bodies.”
Not that any area was spared, but a community called The Mudd was virtually obliterated. Hundreds of homes were swept away or crushed by shipping cargo containers pushed by storm surge into the community.
Nobody has any idea what its death toll is.
Officially, the Bahamian death toll is 61 with about 800 missing — but locals suggest the actual death toll is more than 1,000, perhaps 1,500.
Still, people prayed and found hope in the moments.
“Miss Lydia has been wonderful. I’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve never met no one with her spirit,” volunteer Mark Pierre said.
Pierre has been left homeless and emotionally wrecked by the storm. He appreciates feeling like he has a purpose, working “with a good heart” for the Lord, he said.
For some who believe in prayer, the tragedy of Hurricane Dorian has amplified its need.
Agape Flights CEO Allen Speer watched as people, still without power and largely in uninhabitable homes, showcased their faith — dancing to songs of worship as they await donated goods.
As two vans drove through an area of Freeport, a woman waved and thanked the group. Speer had the vans stop so he could share a moment of prayer and praise with her.
“’Stop the car, I have to go meet the lady and pray with her,’” he said. “And she said ‘I’m just so thankful for groups coming in.’ She was just a great giver, too.”
One victim of Hurricane Dorian was Pastor Kelly Pierre, who in quick succession has lost his parents — and now his home after the vicious storm.
“It was like a monster. Like the devil himself was here,” Pierre said, recalling the moments that windows started bursting in his home and how he started praying until, eventually, the winds subsided a bit and the flood waters started to recede.
As he spoke, Pierre smiled, even as he recalled what many would likely deem a summer of sorry.
“Let me tell you why I’m smiling: Jesus. Only God can make you smile, even if it’s difficult, a difficult time, I’m always smiling,” he said.
And, in that moment, he prayed with Speer and others near him.
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.
Unlike Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, where large areas were obliterated, Grand Bahama and large areas of Freeport sustained heavy damage.
Throughout the Bahamas, it is estimated 70,000 are homeless after the storm that did at least $5 billion in damages.
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.
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,” said Pastor Ken Lane, of a Presbyterian church on Grand Bahama.
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.
‘DON’T FORGET US’
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 on Grand Bahama. “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.
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.”
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.”