Mon | Oct 21, 2019

After Dorian, Bahamas tackles massive clean-up

Published:Friday | September 13, 2019 | 12:28 AM
Pastor Jeremiah Saunders poses for a photo among the ruins of his church, which was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Wednesday, September 11, 2019.
Pastor Jeremiah Saunders poses for a photo among the ruins of his church, which was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Wednesday, September 11, 2019.

HIGH ROCK (AP):

Pastor Jeremiah Saunders stood in the golden afternoon sun and barely blinked as he debated what to pick out from the ruins of the church he built 22 years ago in the seaside village of High Rock on the eastern end of Grand Bahama island.

A black-and-blue tie floated nearby in a pool of water, and beyond that, a ruptured set of drums toppled. Nearby, bone-white sea shells nestled in tufts of grass, flung by surging floodwaters that a week ago carried Saunders for 200 yards until he grabbed hold of a large pine tree and spent two days on a branch after Hurricane Dorian hit the island.

“I spoke to the water: ‘Peace, be still.’ It never listened,” Saunders said Wednesday with a wide smile. But then he grew serious as he focused on the daunting clean-up task facing the tens of thousands of Bahamians who live on the two islands in the northern Bahamas that were devastated by the Category Five storm.

It will be a slow process that some are tackling in very small steps. Saunders picked out two hammers, five screwdrivers, and three treasured Bibles.

ruined possessions

In contrast, 67-year-old Mary Glinton in the nearby fishing village of McLean’s Town wasted no time getting rid of all her ruined possessions. She created three piles of clothes stiffened by mud and water and set them on fire. A white lace curtain, a bright-pink windbreaker, and an old pair of black pants soon went into the flames. She most lamented that all her church clothes were ruined.

“I love blue, and most of my dresses are blue,” she said, standing near the fire in green flip-flops, her legs caked with mud. She also lamented the loss of her one-year-old pet hog, Princess.

A preliminary report estimates that Dorian caused a total of some US$7 billion in damage, but the government of the Bahamas has not yet offered any figures. Crews have started to remove some debris on both islands, but they are moving slowly to avoid accidentally disturbing any bodies lying in the rubble. The official death toll stands at 50, and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said he expects the number to significantly increase.

About 2,500 people are listed as missing in the hurricane’s aftermath, although the government has cautioned that it still needs to check names against the rosters of people evacuated from the devastated islands or staying in shelters.

But as clean-up continues, the first hints of normalcy could be seen in Freeport, a city on Grand Bahama that is operated by a private company, which provides utilities and charges residents without any government intervention. Lights began to flicker on in some neighbourhoods, and crews were seen repairing transformers in other areas.