NASSAU, BAHAMAS – More than 200 Hurricane Dorian evacuees have settled on Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, sparking concerns of overcrowding and access to labor in the aftermath of the Category 5 storm.
Lynton Pinder, designated administrator for Spanish Wells, Harbour Island and North Eleuthera Proper, said approximately 250 storm victims from Abaco are currently living on the island.
That number includes just over 60 school-aged children enrolled in the local public school.
“After Dorian, the island did receive an influx of persons coming in from Abaco,” Pinder told Eyewitness News Online.
“We would have process probably over 500 persons that came direct to Spanish Wells, and most of those persons subsequently left for either the U.S., Canada or Nassau.
“Some persons also went to mainland Eleuthera.”
Pinder said the island is currently able to sustain the influx of Abaconians; however, there are growing concerns regarding the access to labor for those evacuees and long-term accommodations.
“We obviously do have a small population and it would have been a considerable increase because of the size of our community,” he said.
“The only thing that we are concerned about is jobs because obviously employment is limited in a community like Spanish Wells and we try to be as accommodating as possible because we understand the reality of the situation, which is these person need a place to stay and whatever we can do to help we will.”
Pinder went on to explain time is winding down on accommodations for evacuees as many of the homes being used are rental properties.
“We are making due with what we have and the only main concern is employment and also living accommodates because a lot of the places where most person are staying are rentals,” he said.
“Most are second home rentals and so as the tourist season kicks into high gear, those rentals are going to need to be freed up for those visitors coming from outside of the country.”
Eyewitness News Online understands several of those evacuees intend to stay on the island until at least June 2020.
Asked whether he believes the island can sustain the influx of people on a long-term basis, Pinder said: “I have heard some persons say that they plan on staying, I’m not sure for how long exactly, but I think that we will be able to deal with the situation we are faced with currently.
“We do have persons that are in and out on a regular basis.
“Persons have been going back home to try to salvage their goods and also in cases where their homes were just slightly damaged, they’ve been conducting repairs so they can actually get back.
“So depending on how long the recovery takes, will determine how long persons stay.
“But obviously persons really want to get back to their homes in Abaco, no one wants to be displaced.
“The persons who have come to Spanish Wells are resilient and they are focused on getting their lives back together on Abaco.”
In a recent interview with Eyewitness News Online, Progressive Liberal Party Senator Clay Sweeting, who lives on Spanish Wells, said the island must find a way to build its economy into a robust industry in order to accommodate its new residents.
“Right after the storm, Spanish Wells fishing vessels and businesses put together a team to head to the Abacos three days after the storm to help with evacuations and also carry supplies to people that needed it,” Sweeting said.
“In the aftermath we had a lot of evacuees that transposed to Spanish Wells and are now living there trying to decide their next step.”
He noted that class sizes in the school has increased from 15 – 20 students to 30 – 35.
“It’s a lot of resources that now need to be invested in the schools to accommodate all the children, job creation, economic empowerment, things of that sort,” Sweeting continued.
“…The major issue I would say would be trying to find a way that we could build the economy to accommodate all the new residents that have moved there.
“Some may be just temporarily, but as you know the economy in Abaco will take a while to get back to where it was or even half of what it is.
“So we just need to find ways, whether it be by private citizens, governmental influence, to start to accommodate the persons there, or maybe increase the advertising of Spanish Wells as a tourist market to try to accommodate them.”
Sweeting noted the majority of Abaconians now settled on Spanish Wells are white Bahamians.
A local relief team was organized on the island and a considerable amount of funds was raised to help provide services, food items, and clothing items for those displaced individuals.
The island has also received aid from non-profit organizations such as Rotary Club and the One Eleuthera Foundation.