BY DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
An additional $7.5m for ongoing humanitarian assistance and support for Grand Bahama and Abaco in response to Hurricane Dorian is being provided by the US government, it was announced by a US congressional delegation that travelled to Freeport on Tuesday.
This brings the US government total funding in response to Dorian to more than $33m, according to US Congressman Mike Gallagher (Wiscousin), who was among the five-member bipartisan delegation that arrived around 1pm.
Also, in attendance were US representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, and Mario Diaz Balart, of Florida; and Gregory Meeks, of New York.
While in Freeport, the group met the US humanitarian medical professionals, including the doctors and nurses at Samaritan's Purse 40-bed field hospital, near the Rand Memorial Hospital.
Congressman Gallagher said that the assistance is part of a whole of US government effort in partnership with the Bahamian government, charitable organisations, and the private sector to address "the acute humanitarian needs of those affected by the strongest storm ever to hit The Bahamas".
"The majority of this additional funding would provide vital support to our humanitarian partners Samaritan's Purse with this field hospital at RMH," he stated.
The funding, he added, would also pay for removal of debris and help people get back into their homes.
The money would also go towards emergency and transitional shelters for families whose homes were damaged or destroyed in Grand Bahama and Abaco, for repairs, water, sanitation, hygiene infrastructure, and provision of emergency water supplies in communities most affected by the storm.
The congressman paid tribute to the outpouring of compassion from the American people to The Bahamas in the aftermath of the storm.
"We know this is a difficult, challenging time for the people of The Bahamas. Clearly, there is a long and still difficult journey ahead, but we also know that the future is bright. We look at resilience of the people and the strength of the leadership here, and we know that bright days are ahead."
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of South Florida, said it was important that they come to the Bahamas to show their support for The Bahamas, and the Bahamian people.
"We brought a congressional delegation one month to the day after Dorian devastated The Bahamas because particularly in South Florida we know and stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in this region impacted by a devastating storm like Dorian," she said.
The congresswoman said the amount of time that Dorian hung over Grand Bahama was "mindboggling".
"Dorian was unique into and of itself… So, really nowhere in the world have we seen a storm that impacted a country like Dorian has (here in The Bahamas), and we wanted to make sure we were here to demonstrate our support and affection, and show the Bahamian people are our extended family particularly in South Florida, which is how we think of one another."
As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, along with Mario Diaz Balart, Mrs Wasserman Schultz pledged their continued support long after the storm.
Congresswoman Wilson, the first Bahamian-American to be elected to the US Congress, and who has served with Wasserman Schultz for many years together in three legislative bodies, and Gregory Meeks, who represent a large Bahamian population in NY, also brought remarks.
The US representative for Miami Dade County is a native of Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, and has taken in close to a dozen displaced Bahamians from Abaco.
"I am a Bahamian native, and so I have 11 people living with me now from Abaco, and I want to say to the American people, and everyone that is helping that the Bahamas thank you for helping the displaced persons who migrated to Miami," she said.
She said the community of Miami-Dade have been supportive of the displaced Bahamians in their community.
"We had babies to be born; my office gets a call almost every day about a lot of situations for people to find work, and find housing some kind of way. And the Prime Minister has indicated to us that he wants all Bahamians back home, and we are working to help him meet that goal; to make them whole again and bring them back to build up Abaco and Freeport."
Congresswoman Wilson also extended thanks to all partnerships, including Samaritan's Purse, USAID, and US Coast Guard for helping "my people in Abaco; I am from Abaco, Green Turtle Cay."
Gregory Meeks said through assistance and partnerships with the US, The Bahamas will overcome the challenges brought by Dorian.
"We are all together and we want to make sure we do everything we can to assist," he said, adding that it is important that people get their lives back to normal as quick as possible.
Mario Diaz Bullart, Florida 25th Congressional District South Florida, said the US government is committed to assisting The Bahamas.
"It is important to note that this not a temporary thing. This is a longstanding relationship. South Florida got hit by Andrew and we know that it is a long difficult road ahead, but it is important to know that The Bahamas, you are not alone," he said.
"The US congress is in it for the long haul and we know that best days are ahead for The Bahamas. And again, our confidence has never been higher that areas hit hardest will rebuild and come back stronger than ever, and the relationship will continue to grow," he said.
Senate President Katherine Smith thanked the congressional delegation for their ongoing support to Grand Bahama and Abaco.
"What you see here today is a such a great partnership with the US and all of its agencies in helping us move forward. The US Coast Guards, USAID, Samaritan Purse, and the international emergency corps; we have so many international organizations come to our aid here in GB, and we are appreciative of it. They have done a tremendous job, and I know that the Prime Minister, and the Bahamian people are thankful for what they have done. We are extremely pleased to continue to accept the support and help from the US."
The group departed Freeport and travelled to Abaco to meet with officials at the Emergency Operation Center to get a comprehensive briefing of the situation there.