By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NEARLY three years after Hurricane Dorian hit, some family members say they have still not received death certificates of relatives whose bodies were never found after the deadly storm.
For those families who have obtained the certificates, they say the process was a rather tiresome and costly one.
Abaco resident Emily Bethel, who lost both her aunt and uncle in the 2019 storm, said after more than two long years, she and her family were finally able to receive the documents late last month.
She said the family was initially told they would be contacted by the Coroner’s Court on how to get the important documents, but added that no one reached out to them.
The family took matters into their own hands after a friend told them how she got her family members’ certificates last year.
This comes as the Davis administration prepares to debate legislation that will allow for people reported missing “in circumstances of peril” and have not been found in two years or more to be presumed dead by the courts.
The change is expected to come into force through the Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2022.
Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis is expected to speak more on the issue when the House of Assembly meets on Wednesday.
“I had to make a lot of steps,” Mrs Bethel said of the process, “and to get it, I had to travel to Nassau and if people are going specifically for this, they are going to have to go to the Coroner’s Court to get the report which they should get pretty easy like I did.”
“But after I got the report, they told me that I had to go to a lawyer to get an affidavit made up which they hadn’t been doing before because there had been some fraud with some of the family members getting the death certificate.
“So, I had to go to a lawyer to see whether they would be able to assist me and I had to explain everything to them. I sat in their office for an hour and half for them to do the two affidavits for my aunt and uncle and I got them and I went to the registrar’s office and presented it to them and received those death certificates.”
Lawyer fees could be up to $250 or more to get an affidavit, according to Mrs Bethel, who said she was able to get the documents free of charge thanks to a kind attorney.
Mrs Bethel said the lawyer told her she would also be willing to assist families facing similar situations.
However, the Dorian survivor said she believes the government should temporarily set up a special office in Abaco and Grand Bahama to specifically help families of Dorian victims who cannot afford to travel to the capital.
“Not everyone has ways and means to a family or relative who could help them as far as getting into Nassau and money is so tight now for many people,” she added. “So why don’t they have a government official who can bring these Coroner reports from the Coroner’s office and give a date or a time for when they (plan to distribute) them?”
Hurricane Dorian struck The Bahamas on September 1, 2019 as a Category Five storm, killing at least 70 people in Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Some 35 people have been reported as missing since Dorian’s passage, according to the Coroner’s Court’s list.
Many relatives testified about their efforts to find those who were missing during inquests into their presumed deaths last year.
At the end of last year’s inquest, then-Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez declared 22 victims who were reported as missing as dead. Four of those victims’ bodies were positively identified by police through DNA analysis.
She ruled that drowning was the likely cause of all their deaths and advised family members of missing victims to request a death certificate for their loved ones at the registrar general’s department after receiving her written ruling.
The Tribune reached out to some of those families yesterday to see whether they had received their loved ones’ death certificates.
Some said they had not, while those who did, described the process as quite difficult.
Family members said they had to use their connections to get the death certificates after being given the constant “run around”.
“That paper brought closure to the family,” said a relative of one of the missing victims, who asked to remain anonymous. “But the hell I had to go through to get the paper. I had to go to Nassau on several occasions at my own expense to make that happen.”