Preparing the shelter at Central Abaco Primary School. Photos: Terrel W Carey/Tribune staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ONE person brought a brand new television.
Another arrived with a refrigerator.
One man even brought his pitbull in a cage to the Central Abaco Primary School shelter in Marsh Harbour but was promptly asked to leave and take the dog elsewhere.
As Hurricane Dorian inches toward this island, vulnerable residents have been scrambling to safeguard their most prized possessions, even if it means bringing them along to one of the 15 shelters available around the island.
When The Tribune visited the Central Abaco Primary School around 6pm on Saturday, more than 100 residents had already settled there, hours before Dorian’s arrival. By 8pm, according to group manager Christine Lightbourne, that number had doubled to more than 200.
“From previous experience, we sometimes have 400 to 500 persons in this shelter,” said Ms Lightbourne, who works for the Red Cross.
Stillness echoed over the normally bustling Marsh Harbour town on Saturday, with all but a few stores closed and residents at home making their final preparations.
The weather shifted sharply throughout the day, with a mixture of intermittent rain and sunny skies.
“From previous experience,” Ms Lightbourne said, “the average Abaconian and even the expats who live here who have encountered hurricanes, they don’t take it lightly. They’re always in a preparedness mood and they follow the alerts and they respond very well.”
The government issued evacuation orders for parts of Abaco on Friday.
Few people on the cays have taken advantage of the transportation made available, however, worrying officials who insist daring rescue missions will not be attempted in the midst of the storm. By late Saturday officials were still trying to determine how many had chosen to wait out the storm in their remote locations. The total, they estimated, was in the hundreds.
On midday, Defence Force officers accompanied a Haitian pastor, Wilson Isnord, as he used a megaphone to encourage people to evacuate The Mudd and Pigeon Peas areas, the most vulnerable areas on mainland Abaco.
The residents were encouraged to go to shelters like the Central Abaco Primary School. Later, around 7pm, police officers visited the area and more forcefully pushed people to leave.
Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Wilson Isnord in The Mudd community
When they go to shelters, they will find that people are grouped and placed in different blocks, Ms Lightbourne said, with priority given to keeping families together and elderly people near the restrooms.
“We try to balance it so we can’t have a lot of people acting crazy,” Ms Lightbourne said. “The mindset of people is that they do think they can have a room for their families and like I told them, you can be placed in a room but as the demand is required, we will put other persons in in there with you.”
The primary school has about 30 available rooms. It was used as a shelter during Hurricane Floyd 20 years ago, an experience Ms Lightbourne prefers not to recall.
“The shelter was opened up for a month during Floyd,” she said. "People had to be relocated because children had to go back to school. We had to take over 200 people to another location. It was terrible.”
People in shelters are required to bring their own food and personal hygiene supplies.
Two things they cannot bring are alcohol and pets.
“Smoking is allowed outside the room but no booze is permitted on this property,” Ms Lightbourne said.