September 17, 2019
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In Dorian’s wake, a shattered town haunted by its missing

Fernando Llano | AP
Fernando Llano | AP
A bent palm tree is silhouetted against a setting sun, in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. The Bahamian health ministry said helicopters and boats are on the way to help people in affected areas, though officials warned of delays because of severe flooding and limited access.

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas — Her husband is missing. She can’t bring herself to say “gone.”

Lynette Dean, a 46-year-old accountant, heard his screams when Hurricane Dorian brought the sea into their living room. That was a week ago, when he cried out in a flood of rushing water that also took half the house.

She spent days looking. Her phone was gone. So she scoured her broken hometown — one that she no longer recognized — on foot. She looked for friends, family, anyone who might have seen her husband.

As she stepped over leveled houses, boats hurled onto streets, the overturned frames of cars, she told herself: There was no body. Maybe he was safe somewhere. Hurt, but safe.

Her right arm slashed from window glass during the storm, Dean looked until she could look no more.

On Saturday, she joined the rush of humanity evacuating destroyed Marsh Harbour — Dorian’s ground zero.

“I’ve got to go,” she said, rolling her red suitcase to where hundreds of desperate people jostled on the dock for any vessel heading to Nassau, the Bahamian capital.

Behind them lay a shattered place and remnants of lives scattered by Dorian’s fury. A broken baby stroller sat in the middle of a street that looked carpet-bombed.

“I keep thinking he’ll get word to me there, in Nassau, that he’s still here, and I haven’t found him,” Dean said. She paused, raising a hand to her mouth to stifle a cry.

“Where are our people?” she said.

Some hurricanes pass within hours, but Dorian lingered here for days.

This once-bustling port — that was home to thousands — now has the air of a town haunted.

The storm was indiscriminate, taking multimillion-dollar homes and tin shacks, blasting holes in the sprawling Long Bay Private School and the tiny Claire’s Variety Shop. Two power stations have been smashed. From the air, the local chicken farm — Abaco Big Bird — is a field of shredded aluminum.

Marsh Harbour is haunted by the dead. The government said the death toll had risen to 43 — eight on Grand Bahama and 35 on Great Abaco, where Marsh Harbour sits at a place where the island narrows and bends to the northwest.

Late Friday, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned this nation of 400,000 that the death toll would “significantly increase.”

There is a container in the back of Marsh Harbour Medical Center that has piled up with bodies. It fills the air around with the sick smell of rot.

But perhaps more than anything, Marsh Harbour — and all the towns stricken by Dorian — are haunted by the missing and the unknown.

Gracie Davis, a fisherman, last seen around the wood-frame houses in Murphy Town. Pedro Simon Dean, a construction company owner and Lynette Dean’s husband. Sheron Octavian, a waitress at the Abaco Club, whose close friend, Larisonor St. Lovin, has been seeking her for days.

“Can’t know our pain,” St. Lovin said. “People lost. That no mean they’re dead. We can hope they just lost.”

Many of those mobbing the dock on Saturday for evacuations were mourning not just loved ones, but a town and island they loved. Born and bred local Sara Fenelus, 36, clutched her 4-month-old son with one hand and lugged a rollaway suitcase filled with still-wet clothes.

“Oh, you know, we used to go have cocktails down at Tony’s Liquor Store, or maybe over at Dusk Till Dawn,” she said, with a smile. “We had the beaches on Abaco. No better beaches, anywhere, you know. Oh, we had a beautiful town.”

How long might it take to rebuild?

“Rebuild?” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t get my mind around that. I don’t know where you’d start. There’s just nothing. Maybe years. Probably longer. Look at this. Our lives are gone, our town is gone. I can’t imagine this is ever gonna be the same.”

The United Nations, which estimated that 76,000 people are believed to be homeless or in need of assistance in the Bahamas, is providing 1,000 tarpaulins to replace roofs stripped from homes. The International Organization for Migration said 449 people are in nine emergency shelters in Abaco, with 346 survivors being temporarily housed in 17 shelters in Grand Bahama.

There is still hope, officials say, for those with missing loved ones, colleagues, friends.

Search and rescue operations and evacuations were continuing in both Abaco and Grand Bahama islands. Authorities were working to create temporary housing for thousands, according to the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.

Two thousand five hundred people have been evacuated from the Abaco Islands, NEMA Operation Manager Gayle Outten Moncur told reporters in Nassau late Saturday. Between 7,000 to 10,000 people there still need food and housing, she said.

In hard-hit Grand Bahama, the team has had significant challenges in accessing some areas, according to chairman for Disaster Relief and Reconstruction John Michael Clarke.

He added that an oil spill has made the situation worse, and that the team is working with representatives to protect the water supply and fishing communities.

The hospital, he said, is severely damaged, with only the recently built emergency room surviving. The Freeport airport has been cleared for emergency flights.

Minnis, the prime minister, said many of the people in shelters haven’t yet communicated with their families and others looking for them. He promised that the government would soon provide cellphones for them to make free calls.

Many others are simply on the move, looking for a haven as they wonder what’s next.

In Riviera Beach, Florida, hundreds of Dorian refugees from the Bahamas arrived Saturday after an all-night voyage on a cruise ship operated by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, which offered free passage to the United States.

Esperanta Oscar, a pregnant 24-year-old woman, told Reuters that she has no idea what she will do in Florida.

“I don’t know yet,” said Oscar, a cashier from Great Abaco, standing with her 6-year-old daughter, her 13-year-old sister and her niece.

Another notice informed that sanitation services, including residential garbage trucks, would be functioning throughout the day and another said crews were working on restoring energy, as well as on road debris removal in the city of Freeport.

In Marsh Harbour, after what many storm victims described as a slow start, aid operations and evacuations are now running at nearly full tilt. Mental health workers have been flown in to help victims cope, but the hospital has had no time to begin identifying bodies. A growing list of the missing has gone online — dorianpeoplesearch.com — and partial cellular service has been restored.

But in many cases here, the problem is not reception. It is the phones washed away by the storm.

Near the rubble that was the Mudd — a neighborhood with one of the largest urban slums in the Bahamas, populated with hundreds of poor Haitian immigrants — Valcourt Fortilia, a 32-year-old food merchant, pointed to a pile of debris behind a field of splintered wood and wrecked appliances.

“That was my house,” she said.

The rest of her family, she said, heeded local authorities and evacuated to their local church when Dorian came. But not her father. Bobo Baptiste refused. He was 74.

“He is a stubborn man, a stubborn man, said he was not leaving the house,” she said, crying. “He didn’t want to leave. Said, ‘Storms come before.’ ”

“My family is still looking for him,” she said.

Washington Post writers Rachelle Krygier and Jasper Ward contributed to this report.

 



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