HOPE TOWN, ABACO- Island life for residents in the Abaco Cays following deadly Hurricane Dorian now consists of shared homes, communal meals and non-stop cleanup efforts.
Small boats and large yachts litter the shoreline and bushes along the coasts of Hope Town, Elbow Cay and Man-o-War Cay, a physical reminder the island’s transportation and commerce has been debilitated.
Since the storm, residents have been working around the clock to protect the lesser-damaged homes from water intrusion, tarping roofs and removing large debris to clear roads.
“We are all working as long days and hours as possible to get this cleaned up as quickly as possible,” said John Pinder, deputy Chief Councillor of the Hope Town District Council.
“We’re at the point now where we have gotten the majority of the main roads opened, [identified] the area for debris collection, our kitchens to feed the public hot meals, food stores on per need basic for all the donations to go out, tool exchange and so on and so forth.
“Our setup is manned by volunteers and we are to a stage now where we are trying to formulate a plan, hopefully with the government’s help, on where to take all the masses of mounts of debris, of construction material, hazardous material, asbestos, cement board, etc, off of this island in a safe environmental way.
“The objective for the first few weeks of course was survival and feeding our populace and being able to communicate and travel through and reaching the outside world, and now to the point of clean up.”
According to Pinder, the island’s population stands at 700 people, including fluctuating numbers of volunteers and second home owners.
Notwithstanding the intensity of the storm, Pinder expressed relief there was no loss of life on the island due its passage.
However, with no electricity and little assistance from the mainland, Pinder said every day is a challenge to ensure islanders can return to some sense of normalcy.
“Everyone of us are working all day and mostly through the night to achieve this,” he said.
“The faster we can get cleaned up, rebuild and get together, the faster the entire Abaco will jump ahead of this and be more of a shining light than ever before.”
The Category 5 storm made landfall at Elbow Cay with maximum sustained winds at 185 mph and gusts over 220 mph before it barreled its way through Great Abaco.
“I rode out Floyd here and Floyd was a picnic compared to what this is,” said 66-year-old Carrie Cash.
“The damage is catastrophic. We were able to pull out of Floyd in about six months but this one is going to take a long, long time.”
Cash owns a property management company on the island with her husband, and stressed the island has to be up and running within a year.
“This is the only income I have,” said the 40-year-old Hope Town resident.
“…We have staff that depends on us and they’re all working hard. They’re not doing what they normally do but they’re working.”
Cash said she and her husband employ 14 people, but only the men returned to the island to help with the cleanup efforts.
“The tears will come,” she continued.
“Everybody breaks down. You have to. You’re tired. Some days you feel like you’ve just taken 10 steps back, like you’re just not making any headways.
“You just have be happy for the baby steps you take.
“…We were very fortunate compared to the mainland. We have a community to come back to and their own is completely destroyed over there.”
Cameron Sweeting, a lifelong resident of the island, described his experience with the monstrous storm as a “rough situation”.
Sweeting, an electrician and engineer, said he, his wife and son were bunkered down at home.
They strapped the door down and prayed for three days while the storm moved, he said.
“We were at our house in White Sands and we lost parts of our roof during the storm, everything flooded, all the big trees were just snapping and cracking all over the place. That was a scary situation definitely.”
In the weeks following the storm, Sweeting said conditions are a “ little rough”
“But it’s not bad, not terrible,” Sweeting said.
“Like I said, everybody is pulling together so it’s making it a lot easier on everybody.”
For 61-year-old Jane Patterson, each day means dealing with the ordeal “little by little”.
However, she said: “You get up in the morning and if you have to go take your gas can down, you go do that.
“You go check a house. You find housing for Samaritan’s Purse. You go muck out a house if you have to. It’s just whatever you have to do, you got to do.”
Patterson added: “Everyday it just gets a little bit better. We are seeing so much more help coming on the island now which his fantastic. Now that debris is starting to get cleaned up, but power is going to be our issue.”
Eyewitness News Online was told second homeowners and investors are among those stepping in to provide aid to the island.
Chris Ballard, a Bahamian resident since 1992 and a developer, said despite the significant damage, he is confident that Hope Town will bounce back.
Ballard has been developing cottages on a five-acre tract at the south end of the island.
He said: “We wonder what the future will bring, how quickly we’ll recover, but it seems from all the feedback that I get, people are anxious to return, get back to normal. Obviously we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m optimistic.”
Ballard encouraged other investors not to turn their backs on Hope Town.
“I would point back to Hurricane Floyd in 1999,” the California-born native said.
“Although this storm seems to be much more impactful, the response in the return was much stronger after that, and I anticipate it will be the same after this one.”
Ballard said: “Hope Town is a very special place, so I’m optimistic.
“I think people will see how quickly and well we return and even better than we were before, so I’m very optimistic, especially judging from the past efforts, that Hope Town will come back even stronger.”