As the Grand Celebration cruise ship sailed away from the Bahamas on a humanitarian mission carrying nearly 1,500 hurricane evacuees, Ceva Seymour looked back at the hundreds of desperate Bahamians left behind at Freeport Harbour.
“It was difficult for me to see that other people couldn’t get on the ship who probably needed to be there more than me,” Seymour, 56, said after arriving in Florida with 16 cousins and grandchildren, who will stay with a sister in Florida for now.
Those who stayed behind are among the 70,000 people thrust into homelessness on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands by the strongest hurricane ever to hit the archipelago nation of about 390,000 residents.
The death toll, now at 43, remains unknown one week after the Category 5 storm struck, but government officials warn that it will be far higher.
Dorian lingered over the islands for days with winds of about 185 mph. It crushed homes, schools, supermarkets, roads and airports across the northern end of the Bahamas. Tens of thousands of people have lost homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama, according to the United Nations. A thousand tarpaulins were to be distributed to replace roofs, the International Organization for Migration said.
The number of displaced is staggering, given the population of the Bahamas, but not unusual for a major environmental disaster, according to Maria Cristina Garcia, a history professor at Cornell University. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti left 1.5 million homeless. “These 70,000 do not include the thousands who, though not technically homeless, will live in damaged homes covered only by blue plastic tarps,” she said. “You can still find blue tarps in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
The powerful storm seems to have overwhelmed authorities in the small island nation, leaving most early relief efforts in the hands of Bahamian nonprofits and US relief agencies.
The US Agency for International Development this weekend announced an additional $1 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the US agency’s funding to $2.8 million for food, shelter, water containers and other items. Its partner, the Bahamas Red Cross, will also distribute supplies including portable stoves and towels. USAID also has teams of disaster response experts on the ground. The UN provided another $1 million.