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Getting Bahamians back on their feet will be an unprecedented challenge

Jacksonville-area groups helping islands recover, rebuild after Hurricane Dorian

Hundreds remain missing in the Bahamas, and relatives are concerned they were washed out to sea or are still buried in the rubble. Despite the devastation, groups from the Jacksonville area are helping the islands recover.
Hundreds remain missing in the Bahamas, and relatives are concerned they were washed out to sea or are still buried in the rubble. Despite the devastation, groups from the Jacksonville area are helping the islands recover.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's been more than a month since Hurricane Dorian tore through the Bahamas. But the situation on the islands remains grim.

According to the government, the death toll is at 58. But residents don't believe that. Hundreds remain missing and relatives are concerned they were washed out to sea or are still buried in the rubble.

Since the storm, I have made three trips to the Bahamas. I went last week and was one of the only journalists still reporting from the Abacos, where most of the 17,000 residents lost nearly everything.

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Despite the devastation, groups from the Jacksonville area are helping the islands recover and rebuild.

George Cornish's Marsh Harbour home, where he raised his family, was battered for two days by Dorian. Water rushed in and the roof ripped off.

"If I can get the materials, (it will) probably (take) about four to five months because I have water inside, window damage, roof damage. All my furniture is gone," Cornish said. "So I got to take everything out, redo all the walls."

Cornish evacuated his wife and children to Nassau. It's safer there, but living in a shelter is less than pleasant.

"You live off of what you have. The shelters are giving you food -- soups, canned food," Cornish said.
"Every now and then, you can get a hot meal, but you've got to cope with it until you can do better."

The extent of the damage can be seen from the sky. Devastation is everywhere. Not one home, restaurant or business was untouched. Hundreds of people are missing.

"Basically, we are looking for our sister," Patricia Brown said. "We just want to know what has happened."

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In Treasure Cay, 62 residents, many of Haitian descent without legal documents, huddle in a church. They have been there a month, sleeping on church pews and in lawn chairs.

"I need plenty of stuff now -- bed, food, water, a sheet," said Aimimni Nini, who is living in a shelter. "I sleep on a chair."

With no running water, people are worried about sickness.

Safe housing is a big concern in the Abacos.

In Marsh Harbour, many people are still living in what's left of their homes or they are in overcrowded shelters. That's just not sustainable, so that's where shift pods come in. They are state-of-the-art tents donated by a company called Insomniac. The company shipped them and volunteers with the Love and Life Foundation and retired Navy Seals are helping put them in private properties and churches so families can have them as a home base.

"When you combine spread geography -- 600 islands -- and a budget that isn't the size United States, it makes it a difficult situation. So people need to rally," said Matt Wideman, with the Love and Life Foundation. "It's not government that's going to drive this. It's people and the love of people that is going to move the needle."

It's a slow and expensive process. Supplies are coming on planes. Small ships are arriving. The relief is run by an army of volunteers. There's little government involvement.

"Almost all the homes are gone. So Love and Life is providing an opportunity for living arrangements for these families that need to get out of those centers that are in Nassau and come back on the ground," said Pastor Peter Watson, with Seventh Day Adventist Church Marsh Harbour. "Not only that, we are going to be able to -- through these tents -- provide the manpower to get all this work done."

Fresh food is being cooked daily by an organization called World Central Kitchen. 

"This is just our lunch order today, so (the organization is) delivering to all these different locations," said Sam Bloch, with World Central Kitchen. "Currently, we're the only means of food on the island." 

The groups can't go forever. They're working from tents and containers on islands with no infrastructure. More than a month after Dorian came through, there's little progress. Generators provide limited power.  Debris is everywhere. Death is still in the air.

"We need to help here. We need the resources here and we need the prayers here," said Pastor Todd Lamphere, with Paula White Ministries. 

Lamphere is Pastor Paula White's top aide. White is the pastor for President Donald Trump and is calling for the United States to step in.

"I would love to see the U.S. government come to the aid of our Bahamian brothers and sisters," Lamphere said. "We have a great relationship with the Bahamian government. They need our help. They need our support and (I) would love to be able to see some money and some funds come this way."

Until there's a real plan, projects are up to people like Davis Warren, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident who grew up vacationing in the Bahamas. 

"It's our favorite place to go," Warren said.

He and his family are now raising money for relief through the Abaco Rescue Fund

"Keep donating. Donate directly to trusted organizations," Warren said. "We work with partner organizations to give the supplies, building materials, food, water."

Rebuilding will take years and an estimated $1 billion -- money the island nation doesn't have. That means getting Bahamians back on their feet will be an unprecedented challenge.

"What we are establishing here is a long-term project, so we are going to be working in the Bahamas for the next few years," Wideman said.

Each new day brings new light, new hope and new opportunities as Bahamians recover one day at a time. 

"I think Marsh Harbour will return to what it was or better by God's help," Watson said. 

While I was on the ground during my third trip, I spoke with volunteers with a number of relief groups that are still working to help those in the Bahamas. We made a list of those groups. Click here to read out their missions and for links to make a donation to them. 

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.