The Great Storm
The island of Abaco will forever be changed because of what happened on September 1, 2019. As Hurricane Dorian was approaching the Bahamas in August of 2019, no one dreamed it would be so devastating. In the days before landfall, all of Abaco prepared, but no one suspected what was to follow. Everyone thought if Abaco could make it through other hurricanes, such as Floyd in 1999, it would surely make it out of this one. But no one knew what Dorian had in store for Abaco.
Hurricane Dorian quickly intensified to become one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic and the worst hurricane to affect the Bahamas. The record says that the maximum sustained winds reached 185mph, but those who were in the hurricane would say it was probably more than that. Not only did the sustained winds wreak havoc, but also the tidal wave and many tornadoes devastated the island. The storm hit Abaco on September 1, 2019, and the situation grew dire quickly. The massive tidal wave swept over the mainland of Marsh Harbour in the first half of the storm, destroying everything in its path. Sometime around midday the eye of the storm finally made its appearance. In this time, the horrid winds died down and gave many of the locals the time they needed to make it to safety before the second half hurried in.
While the waters had receded and many were now in safer locations, the second half of the storm would be grueling. The first half lasted less than two hours, but the second half lasted for what seemed like days. Hurricane Dorian stalled over the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, moving at approximately 1mph, and devastating the island more with each hour.
Once the winds finally died down enough for the locals to venture outside, for many it was the first glance at just how devastating the damage was.
The entire center of the town of Marsh Harbour was destroyed.
And the entire island was in bad condition. No one was unaffected, and there were hundreds of people missing or deceased.
Those next few days were a blur for many of the locals as they tried to escape from the nightmare.
Community Come Together
There are many affects that natural disasters and trauma can have on a community. For some it brings about a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, where the affected go into survival mode, doing whatever it takes to survive.
And while that did happened, a beautiful sense of community also arose.
Members of the community came together. Homes were shared for the duration of the storm. People went out of their way to rescue, house, and help all around them. Some families provided shelter for up to eighty people during the storm. People that never spoke to each other helped each other out, and people that barely knew each other became family.
While the streets of Abaco were filled with hugs and embraces. Everyone who came into contact with someone else they knew that survived hugged and cried in each other arms.
The sense of community was felt in Abaco in a way like never before.
The World to the Rescue
It was in Abaco’s worst hour that the entire world came to the rescue. All eyes were on the victims of Hurricane Dorian. And everyone wanted to help in some way.
It wasn’t long before helicopters and boats came to the island’s aid by bringing donations, offering rides for evacuees, and helping in any way that they could. Social media and the news was flooded with love, support, GoFundMe accounts, #AbacoStrong, and #BahamasStrong.
Within days, Abaco was filled with rescue volunteers and donations from across the world.
I had the pleasure to watch a local hometown man land his helicopter on the property next to his childhood home and run through the neighbourhood on a mission in search of bringing his parents to safety. And this was not an isolated incident. Any and everyone who had access to the island was using whatever connections and strings they had to do anything they could to help.
For over the next year, and even up until now, Abaco has been filled with volunteers, humanitarians, missionaries, and workers. And we cannot thank each and every one of them enough.
Abaco has made it so far because of all of these hard working people.
A Big Thank You
Team Rubicon was some of the first responders on Abaco. With many veterans on their team, they came equipped and ready to help the community. The volunteers hit the ground running and didn’t stop. From clearing debris to rebuilding homes, businesses, and schools, Team Rubicon served Abaco greatly.
World Central Kitchen was a lifesaver for the people and provided meals for the whole island of Abaco for six months. They provided jobs for the locals and many opportunities for an income. And as a part of their “Farm to Plate” program, they helped local farmers rebuild.
Christian Aid Ministries quickly moved in working on the mainland and the cays to help with debris removal and structural repairs. With mostly Amish and Mennonite volunteers, entire families came to Abaco to help with the rebuilding process.
Water Mission has continuously worked since Dorian to provide clean drinking water to the entire island of Abaco.
Samaritan’s Purse set up a long-term program and a long-term presence in Abaco. In their time in Abaco they have not only offered relief, but have supplied jobs for the locals. The SP team has worked hard to remove debris, muck and gut houses, and provide roofing. They have also offered church and home repair programs, trauma healing support groups, and partnered with other nonprofit organizations to provide for the locals.
All Hands and Hearts quickly entered the scene with efforts to help rebuild Abaco. With an emphasis on schools, All Hands and Hearts greatly contributed to the rebuilding of Every Child Counts, St. Frances De Sales, Little Darlings, and Central Abaco Primary. They also continue to work in the community with other projects, such as debris removal, mucking and gutting, roof repairs, and more.
Within just a few days of the storm, CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) made it to Abaco. They provided the community with relief ranging from rebuilding programs and grants to psychosocial support for those affected.
UNICEF arrived in Abaco within a few days and began offering assistance to the Abaco children and their families by registering approximately 10,000 displaced children in safe schools. They also provided drinking water and sanitation to the people of Abaco.
World Food Program came into Abaco with efforts to increase health through foods. After weeks of assessments and partnering with several other organizations, mainly Samaritan’s Purse, WFP gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of grocery vouchers to the locals.
Abaco Freight (a freight service based out of West Palm Beach, Florida) quickly stepped up in donating supplies, raising funds, and shipping essentials to those in Abaco.
The Red Cross offered hundreds of debit cards to the locals to aid in the rebuilding of their homes and lives.
BAARK Bahamas, along with many other animal shelters, worked tirelessly to rescue the abandoned and hurt animals on the island.
Bahamian Life, a Bahamian clothing business, produced a limited edition Abaco Strong t-shirt and offered 100% the proceeds to help to rebuild Abaco.
Heart to Heart International was one of the first medical teams to respond in Abaco. The Ministry of Health quickly asked them to continue their work. Their mission is to fill the gap in medical care that the storm has caused, and they have offered healthcare to hundreds of people in Abaco.
IDEA Relief is a marine-based emergency relief group that was birthed because of Hurricane Dorian. They immediately began working hard to help evacuate over 600 people after the storm. But their work didn’t stop there. They also offered medical assistance, search and rescue transport, and logistical transport. They were also responsible for delivering food and supplies to the outer cays.
Lille Renee Foundation is headed out of Nassau, Bahamas. They have been responsible for collecting donations, handing out supplies, and offering support with rebuilding.
The Head Knowles Foundation is a Bahamian relief agency. They offered help and relief in many forms, including raising more than $1 million for Abaco.
Abaco Big Bird is a chicken farm located in Central Abaco. Even though Dorian destroyed most of the their farm, the company immediately assisted Abaco by giving away 15,000 pounds of chicken, 6,000 pounds of ice daily, and hundreds of gallons of water. They set up a distribution point, supplied the community with donations, offered fresh produce, and plugged and changed hundreds of tires that were punctured from the debris.
While any list we can try to compile will always be incomplete because there were so many who helped Abaco, some of whom came to Abaco’s rescue included: Isle Go, Campus Crusade, HIM, Key West Cares, Missionary Flights, Kings Wings, Men and Women of Action, RIO Central, ADRA, Global Empowerment Mission, Mission Resolve Foundation, Open World Relief, Rotary District 7020, SOL Relief, Stuart Sailfish Club, Global United Disaster Relief, Living Vine International Ministries, Air Missions, DART, Open World, Shipwreck Park, Sands Harbour, Love Abaco, Gifting Smiles, The Homeless Period Project, One Eleuthra, Mission Revolve, Abaco Connect, Crossroads Alliance, The Boss Project, Florida FLSAR, Fuel Missions, Operation 300, GEM, Treasure Cay Community Foundation, Capacity Path, Operation Pelican, The Buchanan Family Foundation, Coast Guard, Medic Corps, Mission of Hope, World Hope International, Dutch Marines, British Marines, Jamaican Marines, Spanish Wells Boaters, IOM, GAIN, Right Side Up Ministries, Coastal Hope, Team Ghosts, Allegiant Airlines, Men of Faith, Church of the Glades, Church from Key West, Sunrise Community, Oasis Church, Riverbend Community Church, New Providence Community Church, YWAM, Hope Town United, Florida Crash and Rescue, Assemblies of God, Telecoms Sans Frontiers, Net Hope, Information Technology Disaster Resource Center, The Goodness Tour, IFAW, Compassion Kind, The Ebenezer Foundation, Abaco Rescue Fund, 25United, Crossroads Alliance, Freedom to Read.
If anyone was left out of this list, it was not done on purpose. This just proves how many people came to the rescue for Abaco.
We can never say thank you enough to each and every person and organization that helped Abaco during the rebuilding process!
Locals Stepped Up
Many members of the community immediately stepped up to help their island.
It would be impossible to compile a complete list of their names, but we owe so much to the people who worked endlessly to help support and provide for their community.
Some chose not to evacuate, but to stay in order to provide the support and help that their community needed. Some continued to help even while evacuated. And others came back shortly to help with the rebuilding process.
Distribution Centers were set up and worked by many locals for months after the storm, providing the essentials.
The people of Abaco have shown they will do whatever it takes to get Abaco back to its former glory!
As with most major storms, communications were down throughout the island.
But Bahamas Telecommunications Company and Aliv worked tirelessly to get the cell towers back up and running.
Landlines are continuing to be reconnected throughout the island.
Electricity was also lost on the entire island, with the main power station enduring extensive damage.
Within days of the storm, Bahamas Power and Light had teams on the ground working endlessly to reconnect Abaco to the electricity grid.
With new generators and pole and line repair, South Abaco was reconnected within a few short weeks.
Shortly after, BPL worked to reconnect North Abaco.
Individual generators were installed on the cays in order to reconnect power to most of their homes and businesses.
With most of the damage within Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay, it was not an easy task to rebuild the grid. New poles had to be installed throughout the island and the power lines had to be rerun. It was a long and grueling task, but they did it!
Even with the hiccups and additional inspections that were needed, the teams worked endlessly, day after day, to get electricity back to the island.
Resilience of Abaco
We have always known that the people of Abaco are strong, but through this tragedy, we have truly seen the resilience of Abaco.
Within weeks of Dorian, the colors of blue and green could be seen all around: the blue of the tarps on the roofs, and the green of the trees growing back. Abaco was ready to stand back up on its feet again.
Hurricane Dorian left Marsh Harbour, the hub of Abaco, without any viable business. But that did not last for long.
Within weeks, Abaco was equipped with gas stations, stores, churches, take-outs, and more.
And within a few short months, there were functional grocery stores, pharmacies, hardwares, banks, schools, and more.
Abaco is coming back!
Homes and businesses all over the island are rebuilding. And even though the effects of Covid-19 may have slowed the process a little, Abaco will not give up!
Houses are being mended daily. Plazas are being built, rebuilt, and renovated. Buildings are being repaired. Around every corner is a sign of Abaco’s resilience.
Every week there are businesses reopening their doors to the community. There are even brand new businesses being opened. And almost two years after Hurricane Dorian, Abaco has almost every essential need.
There is so much more in store for Abaco, and the people will stop at nothing to bring it back fully.
Colours of Hope
Throughout the island, you can see beautiful murals painted on buildings.
These murals were designed and painted by Benjamin Swatez and The Goodness Tour team.
The Goodness Tour is a nonprofit organization that travels the globe using art and music to bring hope to people facing adversity.
Within a few weeks of the storm, Benjamin and his team landed on the island with the mission of bringing hope and joy to our people.
Each mural depicts the strength and resilience of the people of Abaco, despite the horrible circumstances we have faced.
And each beautiful creation is a reminder to all that no matter what we may face we can still rise up strong!
Abaco is welcoming visitors and tourists!
Our beaches and waters are just as beautiful as ever. Many marinas are in the process of rebuilding. Resorts are open and waiting for you. Restaurants are reopening.
All over the island we have almost every essential you will need. With grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, liquor stores, doctor’s offices, boat and car rentals, ferries, and more.
Abaco is coming back, and it will be better than ever!