Written by Jenelle Eli / American Red Cross
Hurricane Dorian laid into the Bahamas in early September devastating families on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama. The category 5 storm hovered for the better part of two days, unleashing its fury on the islands and cays before moving to the southeastern coast of the United States and then to Canada.
In Dorian’s immediate aftermath, families fought to survive. Access to food, clean water and sanitation, shelter and other necessities was extremely limited. Bahamas Red Cross volunteers helped manage an emergency shelter in a school on Abaco, distributed relief items and offered comfort to people in shock. Parents told sad but heroic stories of keeping their children alive and humanitarians came together in a huge team effort to provide relief.
The global Red Cross and Red Crescent network has since rolled out a major relief and recovery effort. For its part, the American Red Cross has committed $6.1 million to support people affected by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. More than 20 American Red Cross disaster responders have deployed to the Bahamas, with specializations in IT/Telecommunications, relief distributions, cash-as-aid, information management, communications, shelter, finance, and more.
A month of changes
Over the past month, the full impact of Hurricane Dorian has become clearer. Some neighborhoods are completely flattened: roofs twisted into submission, trees uprooted and nearly every structure reduced to rubble. In other neighborhoods, homes remain standing but have suffered water damage - furniture, clothes, kitchen items irrevocably damaged by the storm.
Tele-connectivity on Abaco and Grand Bahama is coming back online and access to roads, runways and ports has massively improved since the initial days of the storm.
The number of missing people has decreased to 600—a heartbreaking number, to be sure, but down from the thousands originally reported missing after the storm. Bahamas government officials have set the death count to 56 and search efforts are still underway.
In the storm’s wake, mass evacuations
After the storm passed, thousands of people decided to evacuate Abaco and Grand Bahama islands. They left via helicopter, plane and ship—arriving at hospitals for emergency medical care, settling with family or friends on other islands, in government-run shelters in Nassau, and even with family members in the U.S.
Aid agencies like the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network have had to be flexible in their response to this crisis. The changing nature of this disaster—including on which islands affected people are taking shelter—means that aid is being delivered to storm survivors on the devastated islands as well as places not majorly affected by the storm.
At the Odyssey airport in Nassau, Bahamas Red Cross nurses and EMTs checked evacuees’ vitals as they arrived, provided basic first aid and transported people to hospitals and clinics. The Red Cross distributed food vouchers to help people with their initial days of displacement, delivered relief items to government-run shelters, and offered its trained nurses and psychologists to provide emotional support to people dealing with the trauma of Hurricane Dorian.
In the U.S., the American Red Cross worked in close coordination with partners at Palm Beach County Emergency Management to provide shelter in West Palm Beach, Florida for evacuees arriving from the Bahamas. In addition to offering safe haven as evacuees plan their next steps, the Red Cross provided food, water, hygiene items, health services and emotional support. Volunteers also helped reconnect families and provide referrals to those in need with the generous support available through community resources. In some cases, the American Red Cross provided resources such as cots and blankets directly to faith-based organizations and civic groups who are hosting individual Bahamian evacuee families in the community. We continue to work with partners to track and assess unmet needs as evacuees in the community reach out and identify themselves.
Global Red Cross and Red Crescent teams are still distributing basic aid—such as emergency shelter toolkits, hygiene items, blankets and kitchen sets—to families on both Abaco and Grand Bahama. Early distributions of water, ice, clothing and food parcels proved critical to people who stayed. One woman spoke with sincere gratitude about her first sip of cold water in the sweltering heat. Large-scale evacuations from the islands have resulted in small pockets of residents who can be difficult to locate and reach—so Red Cross teams are navigating damaged roads and adapting to realities on the ground.
Getting cash into the hands of families in need
As we continue to provide relief materials to those affected by Hurricane Dorian, the Red Cross is also distributing cash to some of the most vulnerable families impacted by the storm. Cash-as-aid enables hurricane survivors to prioritize their needs, brings them dignity, and restores some sense of normalcy to their lives. This immediate financial assistance can’t possibly replace everything people lost but is intended to be a bridge to cover emergency needs.
- This type of aid, called Cash Voucher Assistance (CVA):
- empowers people impacted by disasters to make their own decisions about what type of aid they need;
- diversifies relief options;
- supports local markets; and
- delivers relief at a faster pace.
The Red Cross plans on continuing distribution of financial assistance over the next weeks and months to help people meet their immediate needs.
Jessica Alcira, a Bahamas Red Cross volunteer who helped distribute cash cards, was moved by the experience, speaking about a man she met: "He sat in front of me with his eight-month-old, telling me he was just trying to be a man as he held their mattress over their heads as the roof blew off. I listened and gave him his cash card. I said, 'You can stay here as long as you need to, just sit if you'd like,' and in that moment I could see his body just relax. I knew he felt like he didn't have to carry so much weight anymore. What he didn't know is that my family was affected, too. I thought my own father on Abaco was dead after not hearing from him in a week. Being here today, hearing from people like him helps me appreciate what I have now. I didn't expect it to help bring me closure."
A long road ahead
There will be a long road ahead for people impacted by Hurricane Dorian. Recovery from this storm won’t be just about clearing rubble—it will be about addressing people’s needs and meeting them where they are, so they can determine their own recovery. Helping families in their recovery journey will be a team effort and the timeline is unpredictable. Thanks to the generosity of the American public, the Red Cross is here to help meet immediate needs and support people as they begin their next steps in this journey of recovery.