By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THREE years after Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama, Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis admitted that progress to have the islands restored to normalcy has been slow and not enough has been done to assist residents with rebuilding efforts.
Mr Davis said that there were too many bureaucratic issues hindering restoration efforts and committed his administration to breaking those barriers down.
His comments came during the Hurricane Dorian Memorial Service in Abaco yesterday, which marked the third anniversary of Dorian’s landfall.
The near four-hour long event - which featured tributes, musical performances and prayers - was attended by a large government delegation made up of the majority of the Davis-led Cabinet as well as members of the opposition, including former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
While speaking at yesterday’s memorial, Mr Davis underscored the impact of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco, Grand Bahama and the wider Bahamas, saying the events in early September 2019 will never be forgotten.
Years later, he said many people were still grieving over the loss of loved ones and also acknowledged the frustration and difficulties faced by survivors to get closure from the traumatic ordeal.
“From the many conversations that I have had over these past few years, I understand how difficult it can be to move forward, especially those who are left without certainty about what happened to their family or friends,” Mr Davis told those gathered at the Friendship Tabernacle Church.
“Not knowing makes it so much harder to move on, harder to build our homes and businesses and our lives. Closure, good mental health is hard to regain.
“During the past year, we have made strenuous efforts to give an account for each person, to say what happened to every individual. The task has been made near impossible and since 2019, the record keeping has been extremely poor. We don’t know for certain the names of those who are in those mass graves. We do not know for certain the fate of those we have not seen since the storm.”
Mr Davis said there are also lingering questions on how donations and pledges from the Hurricane Dorian conference have been used.
However, he noted that what his government does know is that the Bahamian people deserve better.
He added: “Since coming into office last year, we have done the best we can to ensure that a national response is driven by compassion but there is still so much to do. We need to support you in getting closure for your loss while at the same time, do far more to help you rebuild.”
He also pointed to recent initiatives implemented by his administration to assist residents on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“We have changed the laws you would have heard in relation to the presumption of death to facilitate quicker settlement of insurance, banking and other commercial claims,” Mr Davis added.
“We have completed the technical phase of the new Abaco hurricane shelter. We have helped people move out of the domes to cleaner, safer homes. It has not been easy or perfect, but it is an important step in moving forward.
“Where the domes now stand, there will soon be new housing which is so badly needed. We’ve just launched a revamped homeowner assistance and relief programme to provide real urgent help to people and to do away with the chaos and confusion and unnecessary bureaucracy which came before.
“I want to say to you today that if you think progress has not unfolded quickly enough, I agree. I can detail the budgetary and bureaucratic obstacles we faced over the last year, but these kind of explanations are of no use to you.”
Recognising that Abaconians wanted action, Mr Davis said with his government’s new policies in place, residents should soon be able “to see, touch and feel the results” especially relating to its housing programme.
“For far too many of you, this is still too desperately needed,” he added. “We are going to do our best to bring help, relief and comfort in rebuilding your communities. Today, my friends as part of this act of remembrance and as an act of respect, I have ordered that all national flags be flown at half-mast.
“What you have experienced in Abaco and Grand Bahama changed the story of The Bahamas. I have shared your stories with leaders around the world. It’s important to me that they know the true cost of climate change. Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels made many big countries very wealthy, but they’ve also made hurricanes more frequent and more intense.
“Those same countries need to live up to their pledges to countries like ours - we who have contributed almost nothing in this crisis so that we can adapt and become more resilient,” the prime minister also said.
Dorian first struck Abaco on September 1 with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, gusts of 220 miles per hour and storm surge in excess of 20 feet.
The storm then moved to Grand Bahama, where it hovered for nearly two days.
As the nation remembered the events of Dorian yesterday, many paid tribute to the lives of those lost to the storm while also reminiscing on their struggle for survival.
“No one who survived had it easy,” recalled Dorian survivor Liann Key-Kaighin at yesterday’s memorial.
“Every one of us has their own story and survivor story. Many of us had no communication in the aftermath. Only a few phones worked. Some had satellite phones, but they were few and far between. Roads were impassable for days. People had to walk to try and find out if loved ones had survived. Central Abaco became lawless rapidly,” she said.
“Gunshots rang out through the pitch black night. In my immediate family, we lost four loved ones to the tsunami that devastated downtown Marsh Harbour.”
Yesterday’s memorial was followed by a wreath laying ceremony in honour of deceased storm victims.
Meanwhile, a similar service is expected to be held at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama on Sunday.
A Dorian memorial concert was held last night in New Providence at Baha Mar.