By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
Life is forced to go on for residents of Abaco, sturuggling in the wake of Dorian’s devastation. But now a new cloud is appearing on their horizon - another hurricane season and no visible plan for their safety from a government some on the island feels has abandoned them.
A long-term resident who was on the island when Dorian struck, said life for Abaconians now is totally different now. He feares another hurricane like Dorian, which sat over the island for two days pelting it with rain and winds with gusts of up to 220 miles per hour, could destroy what remains of the island and leave it uninhabitable.
“I am very disappointed in this government,” the source said. “There are people over here who are going through a lot. They have dead relatives in a container who they can’t bury. It’s a lot. There is no respect shown to us. I’m sure there are human rights organizations who would be livid if they really knew what was happening here in Abaco. It is an ugly place to live at times.
“The only people who are really showing some sort of interest in restoration of this island and its cays are the second home owners and international organizations. I would have loved to see government workers handing out food and helping people. That’s leadership! When people can get in the trenches, boots on the ground and make a difference.”
The resident, passionate about the island he lives on, said he has not once seen Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, Iram Lewis, planning anything on the island in regards to its restoration, even now as Hurricane Season looms..
The Bahamas Disaster Reconstruction Authority is responsible for the management of reconstruction and restoration in areas designated disaster zones. Abaco is one of those areas.
“We have no newspapers here, we have no power here and we have no word from this government as to when we will have these necessities,” the source continued. “We have written to the Bahamas Disaster Reconstruction Authority over and over with not one reply. With no form of communication what are we to think? Have we been forgotten?”
The source said it breaks his heart when he looks in the faces of fellow Abaconians and sees nothing but sadness, hopelessness and despair. He said he is not alone in his disappointment in regards to the Government and he thanks God for the Americans and the Jamaicans who came to the aid of residents.
“I’ve seen so much selflessness from around the world,” said the source. “Thank God for the Americans and Jamaicans and all those organizations from around the world who really helped us. Instead of our government assisting us with building supplies to rebuild our homes, they established some dome programme. Although it is shelter, it is in no way rebuilding Abaco. It’s in no way helping someone restore their home.”
According to this Abaconian, what happened to Marsh Harbour is unthinkable. Besides the debris and dead bodies, rebuilding, he said, is a very high mountain to climb. He wants answers as to why an island devastated last September by Dorian is entering Hurricane Season 2020 in the same state.
“I fear the next hurricane,” he said. “I don’t even want to see a 25 mile per hour storm touch down here, much less anything with Dorian’s strength. The thought keeps me up at night and I see why soldiers have those post traumatic events that haunt them. Hurricane Dorian was apocalyptic and we won’t ever forget that. What happened in Marsh Harbour was unbelievable. During the storm I just sat and thought of which way the storm would take my life. It was that bad.”
There are “rumblings” in Abaco of the return of the Abaco Independence Movement. Formed just after Bahamian Independence in 1973, the Movement was designed as a political party whose stated aim was autonomy for the Abaco Islands within a federal Bahamas.
When asked about the Movement, the Abaco source said, “If it is true, I welcome its return. We would be ready for Hurricane Season for sure. At least we will know people are looking out for us and we will have proper leadership. Abaconians are looking for leadership from our government. There is none! This is how revolution starts! People band together for their cause.
“I don’t see any preparedness in Nassau and I don’t see any preparedness here. Don’t tell us to get flashlights and candles. We don’t need that. What we need is Bahamasair to start flying people out of these islands should something be coming our way. We need an army of people from Freeport that are unemployed to be paid to come on Bahamasair to Abaco three times a week to work in Abaco to help their fellow countrymen. We need solutions that will make a difference in a 24-hour, day-to-day timeline.
“We don’t need more meetings and we don’t need false hope and promises. What we need is leadership, action and solutions.”
According to the source, Abaconians are not welcoming to Kay Forbes Smith, the Managing Director of the Bahamas Disaster Reconstruction Authority. He said she does not speak their language and does not know the lay of the land. He also admitted that there was some work being done on homes, but momentum has slowed down because of the coronavirus. With the lockdown every weekend and no outside help, they cannot move forward, he said.
Continuing the source applied more pressure to the government, “I want to be positive, but I also want the government to answer to something. What is the master plan to restore Abaco? For example, put up a large sign in Marsh Harbour and say, ‘power will be up in six months’. That is what we need right now, heartfelt leadership. We need people to roll their sleeves up and say ‘we are here to help’. I don’t want to see another non-profit here from another part of the world. I want to see Bahamian government people in the trenches.
“Just picture you having your back to the wall and a gun to your face. That’s what it feels like. When I see government people driving $30,000 vehicles here and there are 30-year-old Bahamian Abaconian men sleeping in a tent or a broken down house they are squatting in because their own homes are gone, there is something very wrong with that. When I see a government red licence plate and vehicle is left running, so they air condition can be cool while they go do their personal errands, somewhere and I know there are people with no homes, I find that contradiction hard to swallow.”
Communication at any level is what the Abaconians crave from the Bahamas government. The Tribune source said communication pre, during and post Dorian has been absolutely “at zero”.
“What’s going on now is unbelievable,” he concluded, highlighting the fact members of the Haitian community have seized opportunities.
“You have a whole sub-culture going on. Why does a Bahamian woman have to get a business licence and a Haitian woman does not have to? Why is it okay for a group of people to set up a Barber Shop and get money and send it all back to another country? This sub-culture is out of control.
“You have an illegal sub-culture, a non-governing government, you have no electricity, you now have a pandemic on top of all of that and you are 38 days away from the next Hurricane Season. It’s hard to be positive when you do not have a solution to one of those problems I just listed.”
This, the Abaconian source said, is a recipe for disaster.