(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 by 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.”
He said he found one small home for his family in Nassau but could not afford the $900 monthly rent. Undeterred, Noel said he would keep searching.
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.
Getting back to Abaco is the dream of Betty Edmond, a 43-year-old cook who picked at some fries with her son and husband in a restaurant at a Nassau hotel, where her nephew is paying for their stay.
They arrived in Nassau on Saturday night after a six-hour boat trip from Abaco and plan to fly to Florida on Wednesday, thanks to plane tickets bought by friends who will provide them a temporary home until they can find jobs. But the goal is to return, Edmond said.
“Home will always be home,” she said. “Every day you wish you could go back.”
“You try to keep your hopes up, but …,” she added, her voice trailing off as she shook her head.
The upheaval, however, was exciting to her 8-year-old son, Kayden Monestime, who said he was looking forward to going to a mall, McDonald’s and Foot Locker.
Also flying to Florida was 41-year-old Shaneka Russell, who owned Smacky’s Takeaway, a takeout restaurant known for its cracked conch. The restaurant, named after the noises her son made as a baby, was destroyed by Dorian.
Russell said good Samaritans had taken her and a group of people into their home over the weekend and found them a hotel room in Nassau for a couple of days.
“To know that we were going to a hotel, with electricity and air conditioning and a proper shower, I cried,” she said.
The nearby island of Eleuthera also was taking in evacuees as unmet needs keep growing, said Sadye Francis, director of a nonprofit organization.
“There are still others that have nowhere to go,” she said. “The true depth of the devastation in Abaco and Grand Bahama is still unfolding.”
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.”