By Holly Baker, International Communications Delegate
Bahamian communities were severely impacted when category five Hurricane Dorian came through the island nation in September 2019 and stalled over the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, thrashing the area for nearly two days.
Between the powerful Dorian winds of a staggering 185 mph and the rushing storm surge and flood waters, hundreds of homes in Abaco were damaged and homeowners lost nearly all of their possessions. What wasn’t swept away was soaked and life on the islands was changed as people looked at what was left after Dorian.
The American Red Cross is working on the island of Abaco with a partner organization, Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), helping families make repairs to their houses through cash grants and guidance in the home repair process. Funded by the American Red Cross, the grants empower local homeowners to establish what work they want done on their homes and CORE oversees their progress and provides technical direction on how to repair the homes safely and build them back better.
With adequate home repairs many families have been able to move back to Abaco and start to resume their lives. The American Red Cross and its partners noticed there was still so much left to be done and wanted to extend additional resources to the rebuilding community. Based on an assessment, families could also receive one new household item such as a new refrigerator, a new stove or new queen-sized bed to replace one of the many things lost to the storm.
A Place to Lay Your Head
“I am a survivor and I will continue to survive. Whatever is given to me I will use it and survive with it,” Sharon Octavien said.
She lived through many other hurricanes as a resident of Abaco in the Bahamas, but when the rain and winds of Hurricane Dorian started outside her home, she and her husband had a feeling it would be unlike anything they had ever experienced so they found shelter with a nearby family member.
When she finally returned to her house after the storm had passed, Octavien couldn’t help but cry looking at the mess of what was once a house filled with memories. She acknowledges how grateful she is that her family survived the storm, but still mourns the loss of family photos, her daughter’s baby blanket and other memories gone forever. Octavien received a grant from the Red Cross to help repair her home and a new bed. Though many things cannot be replaced, she says the new bed she received has made such a difference in her life after sleeping on an air mattress for months. She smiles and laughs at how delighted she is to have the bed, something she once took for granted.
“Just simple things make you very grateful, just to have a good bed to sleep in. I’m grateful for the little that I have even though I lost everything, but I’m grateful,” she said.
To Warm Your Belly
Local Abaco taxi driver, Cay Mills, says his first hot meal after living on canned food for months was indescribable. He is a long-time resident of Abaco, and says Dorian was the worst storm he had ever seen in his life. At one point there were eight feet of water outside his house. Mills is working on his home with the Red Cross grant money and also received a new stove after his was ruined. As a driver, he heavily relies on business from tourists to earn money and with hardly any international travel lately it has been difficult. Help in the form of a stove has brought him joy and he looks forward to preparing more filling meals.
To Stock Your Shelves
Firstina Swain collected many memories in her house in Abaco, the place she has lived since 1963. At 77 years old, she was overwhelmed by how much work her home needed after damage done by Dorian, but the repair grant from the American Red Cross helped to lift a bit of the burden.
“I really didn’t have the funds to deal with that,” she reflected. However, once the work got started, she says it was like a light in a dark time. After losing nearly all her belongings and household objects in the storm, getting a new refrigerator to replace her old, non-working one became another bright spot and she can’t wait to fill it up thanks to the Red Cross and CORE.
“It was a blessing, it was a great blessing to me, really. I don’t know how far I would’ve reached if they didn’t come in and help; I don’t think I would’ve reached very far on my own without them, so I’m thankful.”
American Red Cross Response
Thanks to the incredible generosity of the American public, the Red Cross has been able to directly support the people whose lives were most deeply disrupted by Dorian. More than one year later, the American Red Cross has never stopped working in the Bahamas. Donations to the Red Cross allowed us to put cash right back into the hands of local people so they could choose exactly what they needed for themselves. We gave out emergency supplies, food and clean water to thousands of families and are helping with long term recovery by providing cash grants to repair homes and businesses. Together with partners, the Red Cross is helping to be the bridge to comfort and hope following a life-changing disaster.