Residents Desperate To Leave After Bahamas Island Devastated

Sep 6, 2019
Originally published on September 6, 2019 10:14 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

In the Bahamas, people are desperate to get off of Great Abaco Island. Entire neighborhoods are in ruin after Hurricane Dorian. Thousands of people are homeless. There is no running water, no electricity, and food is running out. NPR's Jason Beaubien went to an airstrip at the southern tip of the island where people are trying to catch small planes to anywhere but Abaco.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Several hundred people - some with suitcases and backpacks, others with nothing at all - are crowded to one side of the Sandy Point airstrip. They're all hoping to get seats on the small planes that have come to airlift them out.

CARLOS REQUESES: Let's go. Come, come, come.

BEAUBIEN: The pilot of a twin-engine Piper Aztec, Carlos Requeses (ph), is trying to fill his six-seater plane. A man rushes forward from the crowd with two young boys, each clasping tightly to his bandaged hands. Requeses waves him back, saying he only has two seats left.

REQUESES: I need somebody that is old - you know, people in need - right now.

BEAUBIEN: Another family hesitates about whether they should split up. Requeses calls out again for two people. No one steps forward, so the pilot grabs the dad and the two boys.

REQUESES: Seven people on an aircraft for six - that's no problem.

BEAUBIEN: He decides to count the two boys only as one, and they climb up the wing and into the back.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE TAKING OFF)

BEAUBIEN: For the roughly 20,000 residents of Abaco, a spot on these four-, six-, or eight-seater planes is one of the only ways off the island right now. The main airport, which was under 6 feet of water, is still closed to most planes. Many of the docks in Marsh Harbor are gone. They were annihilated by Hurricane Dorian's winds that pounded the coast with gusts in excess of 200 miles per hour. Even if boats could dock, the government has banned private vessels from the debris-strewn waters.

Thirty-four-year-old Sharona Etienne Cole is sitting by the side of the airstrip in Sandy Point with her friend's 11-month baby in her lap.

SHARONA ETIENNE COLE: We are waiting to evacuate the island. We are not sure exactly what the criteria is for getting on the airplanes. But we are waiting and just hoping that they'll just say, come onboard.

BEAUBIEN: She says her house was destroyed and Marsh Harbor was obliterated. She says she has no choice but to leave.

COLE: You can't stay here. There's a lot of contamination in the water, a lot of dead bodies and sewage. And the electrical company is wiped out. The banks are gone. It's no use staying here.

BEAUBIEN: When do you think you might be able to come back?

COLE: I wasn't really going to try - just leave and start over.

BEAUBIEN: She says she has family in the capital, Nassau. She might go there, or maybe to Florida, or Maryland or possibly Canada. She just doesn't know. People here say Dorian was unlike any storm they'd ever experienced.

Regina Perotti-Kennedy says the sound as the hurricane's winds raged across Marsh Harbor was horrifying.

REGINA PEROTTI-KENNEDY: It wasn't pounding. It was howling, like demons from hell. I have nothing else to compare it to. My ears hurt so bad. I still can't hear properly out of one. It was unbelievable.

BEAUBIEN: Perotti-Kennedy is working with Bahama's Red Cross trying to help make sure the most seriously injured and vulnerable people in this crowd get on the planes.

Do you think most of these people who are here at the moment are going to get out today?

PEROTTI-KENNEDY: No. No. It's an air traffic controller's nightmare here right now. So no.

BEAUBIEN: And with no other options, people here say they're prepared to sleep by the side of the airstrip until an opportunity comes to leave.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Sandy Point, Bahamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLDTWIG FEAT. LIME KAIN'S "DUNES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.