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Bahamas Fights to Rebuild after Devastating Hurricanes

Six months after Hurricane Dorian came roaring ashore in the Bahamas, locals are still struggling to repair their own shattered lives, depending on each other and the ongoing commitment of international charities. Meanwhile, government efforts are focused on rebuilding the island nation’s tourist economy.

“Ten minutes away from the restored and gleaming cruise ship terminals on Grand Bahama island, just beyond the multi-millionaires’ beach compounds, is the real Bahamas—and it lies in ruins,” reports the CBC in a recent feature on The National.

Officially, 76 lives were lost during the hurricane. But many agencies believe “the true death toll is more likely counted in four figures.” And with both jobs and insurance thin on the ground, life continues to be very hard for most Bahamians.

One local resident, Bishop Silbert Mills, owned a flourishing pizza shop that was worth half a million dollars, he told CBC. Now, the uninsured shop has been “reduced to vacant land,” and he has no hope of ever rebuilding that part of his life.

The suffering has been worsened by the fact that Dorian struck just as the Bahamas was bouncing back from the ravages of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Many citizens stopped paying for insurance after Matthew “because they simply couldn’t afford it,” notes CBC.

Determined to bring what hope and progress it can to ordinary Bahamians, the Canadian charity GlobalMedic, which committed to staying on and expanding its services in the immediate aftermath of Dorian, has been using donations to hire local people to remove dangerous mould from water-ravaged homes, and to repair boats damaged by Dorian’s fury.

“We operate on a model of the right aid to the right people at the right time,” Jowett Wong, GlobalMedic’s lead in the Bahamas, told CBC. “Past that [initial] point where people need immediate food and water, they need a livelihood.”

The mould removal program, run in partnership with the regional Rotary Club, has created 45 local jobs. “We’re giving people…a safe place to come home to, and a way to earn money,” said Wong. GlobalMedic is also aiding Bahamian fishers, whose livelihoods were shattered when the storm tossed their precious boats into mangrove swamps and buildings. 

Directly benefitting from GlobalMedic assistance is fishing guide Joseph Thomas, who described the fishing boat repair project as “so needed and helpful.” Another guide, Philip Thomas, was waiting for one of the five boats he had owned to be repaired, but “still doesn’t know where some of the others ended up after the storm,” writes CBC.

“It’s important for me because it’s my livelihood, and it’s important that I continue to make a living to sustain my family and try to get my house repaired,” Thomas said.

Keeping busy also helps keeps Thomas’s abiding grief at bay. “His adult son died in the storm after rescuing his wife from the water, and while trying to rescue his three young children. All four died,” CBC reports.