January 18, 2021

‘Warrior spirit’: An introduction to the residents rebuilding Abaco after Dorian

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From AccuWeather

A look at how Dorian affected communities and community members as they worked to rebuild after the storm. 

AccuWeather Global Weather Center – November 11, 2020 –  Over the course of September and October, AccuWeather reached out to a number of Abaconians who were willing to speak about their hopes and frustrations in recovery efforts, all of whom survived Hurricane Dorian.

Of all the topics discussed, many emphasized the community’s endurance and perseverance through recovery efforts, a need for change from the government, a sense of unity within their own community and deep gratitude to those who leapt to their aid after Dorian struck the island as a Category 5 hurricane in early Sept. 2019.

Here’s a quick look at how Dorian affected them as well as their work in rebuilding the community.

Jessica Mullen

Despite being more than 1,000 miles from Great Abaco Island in The Bahamas, Jessica Mullen still keeps tabs on her home’s recovery efforts more than a year after Dorian left the island in shambles. From her temporary home in Toronto, she continues to try and call attention to Abaco’s path to recovery.

Jessica Mullen, a dual resident of The Bahamas and Canada, rode out Dorian in Elbow Cay, where the hurricane made landfall. (Image/Jessica Mullen)

Mullen, a dual resident of Canada and The Bahamas, had weathered the storm with her partner in a rental property at Elbow Cay that she typically assisted in renting out. The homeowners had allowed the two to stay in the building, believing it to be more secure than the rental property in which they usually resided.

Both buildings ended up sustaining heavy damage, despite hurricane-resistant glass and reinforcements to the building. Mullen estimated the storm made landfall about a mile and a half from the property before it passed directly overhead.

“We were lucky that the one room that we were in for the storm was the only room that had four walls and windows all in tact at the end of the storm,” Mullen said.

Her partner had stayed behind at the cottage they were renting, allowing a handful of other people who had no other place to stay to use the spare bedrooms.

“They have tarps on the roof, they have a generator,” Mullen said. “You know, communal living, and it’s still pretty rough.”

Immunocompromised and not wanting to take up resources during recovery efforts while having a dual citizenship, Mullen left The Bahamas at her partner’s behest. After the hurricane, she managed to catch a boat to Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, and caught a flight to Canada, where her brother lives.

“I knew … my presence on the island would have been more of a burden, taking up more resources,” Mullen told AccuWeather. “Especially because I’m a dual citizen and I had the ability and the means to come to Canada. I didn’t want to take up a meal or a place … a shower, bed, anything from anyone on the island, and it’s kind of what’s caused me to stay here for this long.”

Until her return, Mullen has taken to advocating for change in The Bahamas and aims to draw attention to the “lack of help and assistance that continues now, one year later.”

Garnell Stuart

Of the homes that stood near, if not on the waterfront in central Marsh Harbour, Garnell Stuart found herself in a home that had been spared by the worst of Dorian. She had been staying at a nearby friend’s house, and while the building remained standing, the homes around them had not come out unscathed.

After the storm, Stuart found herself working with multiple organizations during the stretch of disaster relief in order to help take care of her own basic needs as well. She volunteered in efforts from fuel relief to working with the World Central Kitchen to helping other survivors with food distribution. Eventually, her attention returned to contributing to the education of island youth.

Garnell Stuart was a music teacher before Hurricane Dorian who played a role in recovery efforts. (Garnell Stuart/IMAGES by Alexander. www.ibabahamas.com)

Before Dorian, Garnell Stuart worked as a school music teacher, taught creative arts and gave private piano, guitar and beginner violin lessons. However, as it has done with many, the hurricane shifted her line of work.

“While I’m still trying to work in the school system, it’s difficult when we don’t have all the internet access up or the kids don’t have supplies or technology to do the classes,” Stuart said. “So I had to kind of take a step back, and so I’ve been trying to help to get devices for the kids on the island.”

Stuart expressed that when things calm down, she hopes to return to the school system. Until then, she aims to help establish self-sustainability on the island, “so eventually all of us can empower one another to not have to rely on so many entities.”

Despite the lack of government assistance, Stuart said, the show must go on. She described the Abacan community’s perseverance as a “warrior spirit” as they continue to rebuild.

Lydia Ruth Hill

A property manager before the storm, Lydia Ruth Hill found herself taking care of homes once more after Dorian as neighbors evacuated.

Of the roughly 250 people in her neighborhood who checked themselves as safe, about eight households remained five days after landfall. Among the people who left, those whose homes still stood left their keys behind with the request that their pets be fed and offering the food in their pantry.

“So I’m like, okay, I’m managing properties again, just not the way that I was used to doing,” Hill said.

Of her property management team’s 59 rental properties, only eight weren’t shuttered due to water or wind damage.

“My first truly happy day post-Dorian,” Abaco resident Lydia Ruth Hill said of this photo, where she had caught a crawfish “spiny lobster” along with other fish. (photo/Lydia Ruth Hill)

Hill ended up managing more than properties, founding the distribution effort called Abaco Hands and Feet in her brother’s backyard five days after Dorian, which they operated out of a neighbor’s home. She and the remaining neighbors gathered the supplies, distributing them amongst themselves and carefully monitoring resources such as propane.

A year after the hurricane, Hill continues to work through Abaco Hands and Feet, distributing food to over 3,000 households from one end of the island to the other and bringing food to people living in tents to trailers to houses. She notes that even people with a roof over their head have needed help, especially with mortgages having kicked back in and saving money for transportation. She is even helping to feed Americans and people of other nationalities who might have gotten accidentally stuck on the island when COVID-19 triggered shutdowns.

“We are still in need of help a year later and many [are] still living in tents and without infrastructure,” Hill said. “We have been in this ‘thrival mode’ for many months now, learning how to thrive in survival mode.”

Elbow Cay resident Lydia Ruth Hill on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Dorian. (Image/Lydia Ruth Hill)

Carl Carter

Carl Carter and his family, previously residents of the Bahamian capital of Nassau, had always considered Treasure Cay as more than a frequent vacation spot. To them, it was a second home. When they moved into the area, Carter began a business in boat chartering, taking people out on tours, fishing and island hopping.

“Any adventure that they wanted to get into, we pretty much did,” Carter said. “We took care of their needs.”

When Dorian hit, Carter described the aftermath of the storm as “heart-wrenching.”

His family had made it out of the hurricane safely, having retreated to their unsold house in Nassau. However, they lost a lot of their belongings, including Carter’s boat.

“Everyone had something removed from them, and for me, personally, it was a means of making money,” he said.

After Dorian, Carter had to switch gears. He started a heavy equipment business with several machines that he owns, operates and contracts out as Treasure Cay works on rebuilding.

He estimates his boathouse, which had been damaged by Dorian, would be “turn-key” livable by November. Until then, Carter has been staying in a tent while working on the island.

Carl Carter, an entrepreneur, had property damaged during Hurricane Dorian and lost his means of making a living to the hurricane before he founded Abaco Trucks and Trailers. (Image/Carl Carter)

His family still residing in Nassau, Carter moves back and forth between the two islands as the pandemic allows and remains hopeful that the adversity from Dorian can be crafted into something for the better.

“Adversity is a part of life,” Carter said, adding that “in the end, you know things, things will be better than they were before…that’s, you know, the way to look at it.”

Don Wood

Dorian wasn’t the first hurricane 75-year-old Don Wood, a local sculptor in Abaco, had ridden out. A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Wood told AccuWeather he had weathered hurricanes from the northern Atlantic to Florida to The Bahamas.

But Dorian took many things from him: A home, which doubled as his art studio, his glasses, his passport and one of his beloved dogs, Sterling Silver.

One year later, Wood is still without his passport even after visiting the American Embassy for assistance.

“They were absolutely no help,” Wood said of the U.S. Embassy. “And to this day they’re no help.”

Wood is a U.S. citizen with family back in the States and a permanent resident of The Bahamas, but he told AccuWeather he couldn’t go back to the U.S. due to his lack of a passport.

As for his glasses, he was able to find one of his old spare pairs, but has yet to replace the pair he lost in Freeport, Nassau or Havana. He added that if he can get a passport, he would go to Havana.

Permanent resident Don Wood is still rebuilding after Hurricane Dorian. Although his home is finished, he has started constructing a new art studio. (Image/Don Wood)

Not wanting to return to his old neighborhood, Wood bought some land at Bahama Palm Shores, halfway between Marsh Harbour and Sandy Point, and rebuilt. He gathered what supplies were available and built a small one-bedroom house that he “was able to move into right away.” There, he’s started setting up his art studio again, getting back to work.

“Artists don’t retire, we just keep on working. That’s what we love to do, so we keep on doing it,” Wood said.

Wood works in sculpting as well as some painting and metal casting, though coming by supplies has been difficult. It took him seven months to get tools after ordering them.

Among his current projects, he has thought of starting on a memorial for the victims of Dorian.

Louis Schneider

Louis Schneider rode out Dorian in the basement of Abaco’s Seview Castle with his son, his son’s girlfriend and their baby, and Gayle Cottman, the owner of the building. When a moment of calm came with the eye of the storm, Schneider emerged from the basement.

“To see that was something right out of a Sci-Fi movie,” Schneider said. “I mean it was small. The eye was compact, and you could look up for miles. It was unbelievable.”

Louis Schneider stayed on Abaco after Hurricane Dorian, helping to service septic tanks and portable toilets. (Image/Louis Schneider)

Schneider stayed in Marsh Harbor after Dorian, starting a septic tank business, which then grew to cover portable toilets after the storm with Bahamas Waste. As Abaco rebuilds, Schneider described his part as helping to keep the toilets clean and serviced as well as working with treatment plants.

During the earlier days of rebuilding, Schneider was able to save a welder and a compressor, allowing him to weld much-needed parts in a time of limited resources. He welded main water valve shut-ons, sending them to Water Works before maintaining the interceptors at Treasure Cay and Spring City as people started cleaning up.

“We all have our part to do if you possess a skill,” Schneider told AccuWeather. “We’re all in it together. If one of us fail, we’re all gonna fail, and this is what I believe in and what I live by because of the seriousness of it. We have our knowledge and skills to share with the people to help bring us back up.”

Barbara Bethel

On the morning of Sept. 1, 2019, Barbara Bethel was looking out the window of her daughter’s house in Marsh Harbour when Marquis Knowles, her daughter’s boyfriend, came to get her.

Barbara Bethel with her granddaughter. (image/Barbara Bethel)

“Mom, we got to get out of here,” Bethel recounted Knowles saying.

He took her by the her arm and she grabbed her purse as they hurried out of the building the family had thought would be a safe shelter. On their way out, Bethel stole a glance back at the front door.

“I turned to look at the front door and I saw the roof of the house lift and the wall come tumbling down,” Bethel said. “When I stepped out the door I was in 4 feet of water.”

The two along with Lisa and her 1-year-old daughter, Margaret, made a run for the car. By then, Bethel recalled, they had decided to head for Bethel’s mother’s house, which was a structure made of cement and situated on a hill.

“When we finally did realize we had to do that, there was no getting out of the house,” Bethel said. “I mean, we didn’t literally get out of the yard.”

The four made it as far as Knowles’ truck when a wave hit, washing away Bethel’s own car along with her dog. They climbed into the truck, hoping to make a getaway, when the vehicle started floating. Another wave swept through, sweeping away Knowles and Margaret in the rush to escape the floating car. Thankfully, all four made it through the storm “safe and sound” and were able to reunite after the water receded.

After the storm, Bethel was able to stay in Palm Beach, Florida, where she has family, before she returned to Abaco. Her daughter’s home was destroyed, the family of three now lives with Bethel in her one-bedroom house about 30 miles from town.

When needed, only one of them will make the trip into town for grocery shopping or to get gas. Other than that, Bethel doesn’t go into town other than for a haircut every month or so. Occasionally, she’ll drive through Marsh Harbour or Murphy Town.

“I always drove around by landmarks. You can’t do that anymore because everything is gone,” Bethel said. “Everything is gone. There is nothing left.”

Additional reporting by Mark Puelo.

About AccuWeather, Inc. and AccuWeather.com

AccuWeather, recognized and documented as the most accurate source of weather forecasts and warnings in the world, has saved tens of thousands of lives, prevented hundreds of thousands of injuries and tens of billions of dollars in property damage. With global headquarters in State College, PA and other offices around the world, AccuWeather serves more than 1.5 billion people daily to help them plan their lives and get more out of their day through digital media properties, such as AccuWeather.com and mobile, as well as radio, television, newspapers, and the national 24/7 AccuWeather Network channel. Additionally, AccuWeather produces and distributes news, weather content, and video for more than 180,000 third-party websites.


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