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Catholic Relief Services is coordinating aid for communities impacted by Hurricane Dorian, such as this area in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas.
Catholic Relief Services is coordinating aid for communities impacted by Hurricane Dorian, such as this area in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas.
Photo Credit: Loren Elliott | Reuters

Desperation mounts in Bahamas as shelters overflow with hurricane evacuees

Bahamas government estimated up to 10,000 people from Abacos islands need food, water and housing

NASSAU, Bahamas — Desperation mounted in the Bahamas on Tuesday as hurricane survivors arriving in the capital by boat and plane were turned away from overflowing shelters.

As government officials gave assurances at a news conference that more shelters would be opened as needed, Julie Green and her family gathered outside the headquarters of the island’s emergency management agency, seeking help.

“We need a shelter desperately,” the 35-year-old former waitress from Great Abaco said as she cradled one of her 7-month-old twins on her hip, his little face furrowed. Nearby, her husband held the other twin boy as their four other children wandered listlessly nearby. One kept crying despite receiving comforting hugs.

Hurricane Dorian devastated the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands in the northern part of the archipelago a week ago, leaving at least 50 dead, with the toll certain to rise as the search for bodies goes on.

Nearly 5,000 people have arrived in Nassau by plane and boat, and many were struggling to start new lives, unclear of how or where to begin. More than 2,000 of them were staying in shelters, according to government figures.

Green said that shelter officials told her they couldn’t accept such young children, and that the family has slept in the home of a different person every night since arriving Friday in New Providence, the island where Nassau is situated.

“We’re just exhausted,” she said. “We’re just walking up and down, asking people if they know where we can stay.”

Erick Noel, a 37-year-old landscaper from Abaco with a wife and four children, found himself in the same situation. They will have to leave a friend’s house by Wednesday and had not yet found a shelter where they could stay.

“They are full, full, full,” he said. “I keep looking for a place to go.”

Meanwhile, government officials said they were helping all evacuees and considering building temporary housing, perhaps tent or container cities.

“We are dealing with a disaster,” said Carl Smith, spokesman for the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency. “It takes time to move through the chaos. We are responding to the needs.”

The government has estimated that up to 10,000 people from the Abacos alone will need food, water and temporary housing.

Dimple Lightbourne, a 30-year-old Abaco resident now in Nassau, said she couldn’t wait to escape the disaster Dorian left behind.

“I don’t want to see the Bahamas for a while. It’s stressful,” she said. “I want to go to America. … This is a new chapter. I’ve ripped all the pages out. Just give me a new book to fill out.”

Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder of Nassau, Bahamas said two schools and one parish on Abaco Island were destroyed: St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in Treasure Cay and Every Child Counts School for Special Students in Marsh Harbour, along with Sts. Mary and Andrew Catholic Church and rectory in Treasure Cay, which the archbishop described as now “a pile of rubble” following Dorian.

On Grand Bahama Island near Freeport, the retreat center and church of Mary Star of the Sea was damaged. A group of storm evacuees have taken up temporary residence at St. Francis de Sales and Mary Star of the Sea parishes.

Tom Tracy of Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

Second collection

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has asked parishes of the Archdiocese of St. Louis to participate in a second collection at all Masses Sept. 14-15 or Sept. 21-22 to help with immediate and long-term needs of people recovering from Hurricane Dorian.

Archbishop Carlson stated in a letter to the faithful of the archdiocese that he is “deeply saddened” by the “deaths and the devastation that our brothers and sisters in the Bahamas are experiencing in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. I ask the Lord to carry those who have lost so much.”

Catholic Charities of St. Louis will forward all of the funds collected to Catholic Relief Services, which is providing relief in hurricane-impacted communities, Archbishop Carlson wrote. He also will offer a Mass for people who died and their loved ones who are grieving. “I ask you to please join your prayers with mine for those that must rebuild their lives after this tragedy,” he stated.

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