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‘Like a monster’ - Fate of hundreds of J’cans uncertain as Hurricane Dorian pummels The Bahamas; Florida battens down

Published:Tuesday | September 3, 2019 | 12:31 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Strong winds from Hurricane Dorian blow the tops of trees while whisking up water from the surface of a road in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, yesterday.
Strong winds from Hurricane Dorian blow the tops of trees while whisking up water from the surface of a road in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, yesterday.

As Hurricane Dorian battered The Bahamas yesterday, leaving a trail of death and devastation in its wake, there was uncertainty about the fate of roughly 1,000 Jamaicans living in the badly devastated Abaco Islands.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis yesterday confirmed at least five deaths as the weather system slowly moved across the archipelago, drenching neighbourhoods and pummelling them with wind, leaving some neighbourhoods under several feet of water.

The Abaco Islands, which has sustained the most damage, is the third most popular area of residence by Jamaicans in the country – behind Nassau and Freeport – with approximately 1,000 Jamaicans living there.

Jamaica’s honorary consul in The Bahamas, Terrel Butler, yesterday said she had made contact with one Jamaican, who reported that she was safe.

Butler said 2,500 Jamaicans were also living in Grand Bahama, mainly in the Freeport area.

No reports on the welfare of any other Jamaicans were available.

Butler reported that in Nassau, which is home to the majority of the Jamaicans, there was little rain, a bit of wind, and some supermarkets were still open.

Dorian is the strongest hurricane to have hit The Bahamas, having strengthened to a Category Five and made landfall on Sunday.

Deandre Williamson, a reporter at Jones Communications Network who has been tracking the impact of weather system from Nassau, gave The Gleaner an update on the situation last evening.

“The storm hit Abaco on Sunday. Abaco got destroyed. Homes were flattened. They said about 13,000 [homes] so far, but that number is expected to grow. Trees were uprooted, people were displaced, and then there was a tragedy in Abaco. A little boy, eight years old, died. His family believes he drowned. The water was high and they were trying to escape,” Williamson explained.

While the wind speed fell yesterday, Dorian continued its onslaught on The Bahamas, moving at a mere one kilometre per hour.

“Grand Bahama is still being impacted. It’s still getting pounded and a lot of people are reporting that there is a lot of flooding. A lot of homes have been destroyed and people are evacuating. We have heard reports of people who are trapped on their roofs because the water was so high in some homes. Many reports came to the station. People were calling for help,” Williamson further stated.

She added that settlements in The Mudd and Pigeon Pea in Abaco, which are highly populated by Haitians, have been completely wiped out.

“It’s like a monster that came through. We didn’t expect it,” said Williamson.

Dorian is headed to the east coast of Florida in the United States, and residents are taking no chances.

Roan Daley, a Jamaican living in South Florida, said he began preparations last week by gathering basic items such as canned food, batteries and water.

“I think for a lot of us who experienced Gilbert, we err on the side of caution, not taking anything to chance,” he said, recalling the 1988 hurricane which slammed Jamaica. “Generally, I think South Floridians have heeded the call to be prepared. The lines were long at the gas station and supermarkets were pretty bare of things like bread.”

“In my neighbourhood, folks have battened down with storm shutters and boarding up of windows. A lot of folks have decided to get out of Dodge, especially folks who remember Hurricane Andrew,” Daley said, adding that people have flown out of the area.

“The news and pictures coming out of [The] Bahamas is really heart-wrenching and our prayers go out to the people of that nation. It’s a reminder to everyone, though, of how devastating hurricanes can be and we should not take chances with preparation. It seems that we will not face the brunt of Dorian, thankfully, but the season is still young, so we keep on guard,” Daley said.

Carl Young, another Floridian, said he and his family have purchased extra supplies of bottled water and have acquired a coal stove.

“The shutters around the windows are in place. We have not purchased our usual supply of meat or poultry in the event of the loss of electricity. I notice they (neighbours) have acquired plyboard and have begun to batten down their windows,” Young said, adding that he was “not overly concerned” about the impact of the hurricane because he lives in southwest Florida.

A number of countries have begun pledging assistance to The Bahamas as the country looks to rebound from the disaster.