89.1 WEMU

Hurricane Dorian Evacuees Consider Where To Rebuild Their Lives

Sep 11, 2019
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the capital city of the Bahamas, Nassau, authorities are trying to find beds - enough beds for thousands of people who were forced to evacuate because of Hurricane Dorian. They're struggling to accommodate so many who have been left with so little.

Here's NPR's Jason Beaubien from Nassau.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Minnie Johnson lived her entire life on Abaco Island. She left Marsh Harbour by boat on Saturday with six of her family members, her clothes and nothing else.

MINNIE JOHNSON: I've been here 69 years, and I never have seen anything like it. The house was standing. Everything was intact. And 10 minutes later, everything was gone.

BEAUBIEN: Now she's sleeping on a thin mat on the floor in a Salvation Army shelter in the capital. Johnson is one of thousands of Hurricane Dorian evacuees trying to figure out how and where they're going to rebuild their lives. She says she doesn't expect she'll ever go back to Marsh Harbour. She thinks maybe her family can find an apartment here in Nassau.

MINNIE JOHNSON: If we could get some place here because there ain't no place over there for me anymore - me and my kids, my grandkids, my daughter-in-law and my sons and them. Everybody trying to decide in their mind whether they can stay here or what we can do because right now, we need some place to go.

BEAUBIEN: And she's not alone. Her daughter-in-law, Manoushka Johnson, says the family isn't really even sure where to begin. To start with, they've got no money.

MANOUSHKA JOHNSON: The only thing I end up with is my kids. I ended up with nothing - no document, not even a dollar. So I can't really say how long I can be here for. Even though I do find a job, it could take a while for me to rent an apartment because you've got to pay first and last. So I can't really say how long I can be here for.

BEAUBIEN: According to the Bahamian government, roughly 5,000 survivors of Hurricane Dorian have been evacuated to Nassau. Others went to neighboring islands or to the United States. This Salvation Army shelter is small, with space for only 30 people. It opened over the weekend and filled to capacity.

CLEORA MACKEY: We can't take anymore because the space is so small.

BEAUBIEN: Cleora Mackey is a retired employee of the Bahamas' Department of Social Services. She got called back in to help run the shelter at the Salvation Army.

MACKEY: I'm here to help because it could happen to anyone. It could be my family - my family to another family island. And one of these days, a hurricane may pass there. And I would want someone to help them.

BEAUBIEN: Mackey says the evacuees have all the basics that they need here - showers, toilets, food and a place to sleep. Volunteers have brought in bags of donated clothes. Mackey, like the residents, says she has no idea how long people are going to stay. Right now, she's working on short-term problems, like getting them cots so they don't have to sleep on the floor. The spokesperson for the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency, Carl Smith, says the government is aware that several shelters are already full.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARL SMITH: As the need arise, we will open other shelters. So as the need arise, they will be made available.

BEAUBIEN: There's been criticism in the local media that the humanitarian response has been uncoordinated and too slow. Some people who can't find friends and loved ones say it's unclear how to even track them down. At yesterday's press briefing, Smith was asked repeatedly how many are still unaccounted for. And he was unable to provide a number. He also said the government's relief response is not moving too slowly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: We are dealing with a disaster. It takes time to move through the chaos. We are responding to the needs. There are lots of food and supplies on the ground.

BEAUBIEN: Regardless of whether things are moving too slowly or not, it's clear that a lot of people are going to need a lot of assistance for a long time. And the big question is, will the government have the resources and the stamina to deliver that aid?

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Nassau, the Bahamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.