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'We believe in bouncing back': Why some Hurricane Dorian survivors are staying on Abaco

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

TREASURE CAY, Bahamas -- O.C. Cornish drives down S.C. Bootle Highway in his four-door light gray sedan, zigzagging past downed power lines, snapped pine trees and mountains of shredded debris, pointing out along the way the pockets of civilization that used to be.

His office complex, car rental business and two-bedroom Topical Pine vacation cottages? Gone. The Baptist church? Gone. The understated, yellow-and white Touch of Class restaurant, at the entrance of Treasure Cay? Gone.

"This here used to be a famous restaurant," Cornish said, pointing to a mangled concrete structure with a blown off roof and flattened to half the size it used to be before Hurricane Dorian's 185 mph winds chewed up the popular bar and restaurant. "It's gone."

"It's rough. Rough," he said about life in Treasure Cay, where the Category 5 hurricane tore through homes, churches and luxury resorts over the Labor Day weekend before slamming Grand Bahama with 18-foot storm surges as it stalled for 40 hours over the low-lying island. "But that's a part of life. It's going to get rough before it gets better."

Two weeks after Dorian reduced much of the Abacos to rubble and left scores of homes in Grand Bahama with gaping holes in the ceilings, shell-shocked storm survivors are facing the daunting task of rebuilding their devastated lives. The government says it has so far confirmed only 50 deaths, although its missing person registry had 1,300 names -- down from 2,500 days earlier -- as of Friday.

Meanwhile, an estimated 4,500 residents have fled for Nassau, while an unknown number have boarded commercial flights and private charters for Florida. With the free evacuation flights all but ceased, hundreds of others, including Cornish and a handful of Haitian immigrants, have decided to stay put in the Abacos and rough it out.

 

"Everybody just can't leave," said Cornish, driving past water-clogged vehicles with missing windows, brown vegetation and collapsed houses on the lonely stretch. "I am going to stay and try to build, put it back together. I am an Abaconian. We believe in bouncing back."

Putting it all back together won't be easy. Nor will it be cheap. There is no electricity on the island or any of its 15 storm-ravaged cays. Cell service, while coming back, still isn't 100 percent, and running water? No way. Baths are taken with a bucket -- "We call it a cowboy," Cornish said, with a laugh.

Food, medical supplies and other relief are pouring in, but government spokesman Carl Smith acknowledged on Friday that due to the devastation on Abaco and the surrounding cays, "it is logistically more challenging to deliver them relief." Meanwhile, locals like Richard Roberts, who survived by tying his 11-foot boat to the knob of his front door and keeping it open by about six inches to release the pressure, said it's "very stressful."

"You've got limited amounts of gas, and you have to be very careful where you're gong and what you're doing," said Roberts, 57. "Your roof is leaking, and now they say we have another (weather) disturbance out there. You don't know if the tarp is going to blow away and everything is going to get gutted again."

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