Abaconians lament stalled pace of recovery efforts

Abaconians lament stalled pace of recovery efforts
A home in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, left in ruin, nearly two moths after the passage of Hurricane Dorian. (PHOTO: Royston Jones Jr.)

MARSH HARBOUR, ABACO – As the government deploys workers to Abaco as part of the recovery and reconstruction effort, some Abaconians expressed dismay about the pace to rebuild the storm-torn island.

Hurricane Dorian ripped through the northwest Bahamas, leveled communities, displaced thousands and killed at least 65 people.

Bettee Albury, 76, who has spent her life in Marsh Harbour, told Eyewitness News Online her son lost his truck, while his home sustained severe damage.

Good Samaritans in the United States donated a mobile home and a truck, however, Albury said they remain at the port.

Bettee Albury

“It’s been to the port for two weeks trying to get in and they won’t even stamp the papers to approve it so the boat could bring it in,” she said, while sitting beside her friend, Yvonne Key, on the porch of her home.

“My son had a lot of damage to his house. Actually, Standard Hardware’s right across the street from here; the water came even though it was on a hill.

Albury said: “He had about $1 million worth of lumber in the yard and people just came and carried it. He had like three 850-gallon drums and the storm busted them up.

“But they (government) want to hold everything that people have donated to him and they’re telling us that it has to go through NEMA (the National Emergency Management Agency), which I think is a bunch of crap. Personally donated; right to the port of Palm Beach now”

Albury said the slowness of the government to sign off on paperwork is indicative of its pace in the recovery effort to date.

She lives alone.

While her home was among the few in Marsh Harbour to be spared, sustaining minimal damage, she said in the immediate aftermath of the storm no one came to check “to see if I was alive or dead”.

“They had a group of Jamaican guys in and there was one guy from the Dutch military. That one guy and the four Jamaicans guys came to check on me three to four times to see if I needed anything,” she said.

Asked about the government’s response, she exclaimed: “None. Absolutely none. They’re not moving at all. All they’re concerned about, as far as I’m concerned is the money and the value-added tax (VAT) and I get upset every time anybody says government, you know because they’re not doing nothing.”

Albury said she was given a generator by an international charity, and has housed the volunteers while they worked on the island.

Her 14-unit plaza sustained substantial damage and remains inoperative.

She had fire insurance, but not hurricane insurance.

Commerce remains at a standstill in Abaco.

While power has been restored to the south, the north remains without electricity.

Potable water in some areas remain inaccessible.

Pauline Sawyer stayed with her son during the storm.

Her property near the coast was swept away.

She evacuated to Orlando, Florida, for a month before returning to Abaco.

Disappointment was the word she used to describe the government’s response.

“I had to go in somebody else’s shoes,” Sawyer said. “I didn’t have clothes. I didn’t have shoes. I still have nothing and not one person has had a [heart] to ask ‘how you fared during the hurricane’.

“They are — and Dr. Minnis I want this for you — the most disgusting… no good prime minister and government that The Bahamas has ever had and I’ve been here for 73 years. I think between you and the man whose handling our money, [Minister of Finance] Peter Turnquest; and the answer he gave to someone in Freeport, he should be ashamed of himself.

Pauline Sawyer

“…The only thing you want Abaco for is what money you can get from us, but no one is going to send you money no more. I’m tired and disgusted.

“You are more concerned about the finances that Abaco puts into the Treasury and y’all don’t know what to do with it. Y’all need to fix up Abaco. Abaco needs to be fixed up. You come down here and you go into that office for an hour and say how you been to Abaco. We don’t want you to Abaco.

“We don’t need you,” Sawyer added.

“We never needed you.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis travelled with several Cabinet ministers to Abaco over the weekend to observe the reconstruction and recovery effort. It was the second trip in recent weeks.

(photo credit: Yontalay Bowe/OPM)

According to a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister, removal of debris is part of the first phase of the reconstruction effort. It said once debris has been cleared the rebuilding can begin.

But Sawyer said: “You should be here helping the people now.”

Celly Selvains, a former resident of The Mudd who lost his home and was evacuated to New Providence after the storm, was less critical of the government.

However, he admitted progress appears slow.

Selvains came back to the island in recent weeks to work in construction at Baker’s Bay.

Multi-million dollar Baker’s Bay Gold & Ocean Club has been shuttered indefinitely due to extensive damage sustained during Hurricane Dorian.

“How I am looking at Abaco right now it will never be the same,” Selvains said.

“The prime minister, they’re doing their job, but at the same time they’re actually moving a little slow. A lot of people in Abaco in right now. No stores. Food is there, but sometime not everyone finds food.

“I see a lot of Bahamians in the United States saying they are not coming back. I came back here to work and try to take care of my family. That is the biggest thing for me. If my family was straight I would feel like I have nothing to worry about.

Selvains rode out the storm in a shelter.

Many of his friends who failed to evacuate The Mudd are either dead or missing.

Selvains now lives with several other displaced residents in a home behind the Intenational Gospel Mission Church.

He walks to shelters for food, and pumps water to bathe using a generator given to the residents of the home.

The generator Selvains uses daily to perform basic tasks.

His sister, mother and cousin remain in Nassau as evacuees.

Selvains said he does not want them to come back until the islands return to some sense of normalcy.