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Bahamas struggle to recover before the next hurricane season is upon them

There are signs of recovery in the Abaco Islands, five months after Hurricane Dorian decimated this part of the Bahamas.

In Marsh Harbor, for example, work crews and volunteers are gutting homes, repairing roofs and clearing streets.

But in other parts of town, stray dogs are the only signs of life, and only the distant sounds of chainsaws and hammers pierce the eerie quiet.

In fact, some of the areas devastated by the storm appear untouched since the hurricane made landfall, without a person in sight.

Utilities have been slow to come back.

“We expect power in Abaco to be fully restored by early summer,” reports Katherine Smith from the Bahamas Disaster Reconstruction Authority.

Thoughts of the 2020 hurricane season are adding an urgency to the recovery.

Resettling to Rebuild

With so many homes destroyed, there aren’t enough people currently living on the island to rebuild quickly.

“Much of the population in Abaco evacuated or were displaced. And now they are largely unable to return because there is no housing,” explains David Eisenbaum, with the charity All Hands And Hearts. “We need thousands of volunteers. There’s a tremendous need for manpower and the recovery is limited by this shortage of labor.”

To help residents return to the islands, the Bahamian government is setting up dome structures for temporary housing.

“We are shipping in domes that they can stay in as their homes are being rebuilt,” Smith tells CNN. “And we are launching a Small Home Repair Program this month to try to get the homes ready for the next hurricane season, which is right around the corner.”

With a few months to go before the new hurricane season begins this summer, piles of debris that are still sitting along the streets could turn into deadly projectiles if the wind picks up.

Reviving Grand Bahama

Grand Bahama also suffered severe devastation from Dorian. Storm surges up to 20 feet submerged vast parts of the island, swamping more than 4,200 homes, according to Smith.

“Some of these homes might partially still be standing, but are not safe to stay in,” explains Katie Wilkes, an American Red Cross spokeswoman. “One of the top needs here is also for long-term shelter.”

There’s also a shortage of drinkable water; the storm surges dramatically raised the salinity of Grand Bahama’s water supply.

“After Dorian, the water became extremely salty. Currently, 65% of households are compromised,” reports Iram Lewis, the Bahamas’ minister of state for disaster management and reconstruction. “By March, that number should be down significantly and completely gone by the end of the summer.”

It’s a hint of optimism, boosted by electricity that is now back on across almost all of Grand Bahama.

Yet the devastation to infrastructure and business has crippled the economy. Unemployment for Grand Bahama remains high, and the damage to infrastructure renders tasks beyond meeting the day-to-day needs difficult.

“So many have to now walk on foot through the debris just to receive drinkable water. The everyday challenges they face make it difficult to rebound from this and rebuild,” Wilkes explains. “The level of devastation is so big that it will take a long time for the Bahamas to recover. And they can’t do it alone.”

Many of the international charities who initially responded to Dorian are still on the ground. You can help these organizations continue their work in the Bahamas by clicking the button below or by following this link.

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