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Long scorned in the Bahamas, Haitians living there fear what comes next after Dorian

Jacqueline Charles And Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

MARSH HARBOUR, The Bahamas -- Hurricane Dorian, the most catastrophic storm to hit the Bahamas, has upended everyday routines.

On Sunday, the St. Francis Catholic Church, an imposing round structure on a hill in Abaco, was still being used as an emergency shelter. All of its occupants were Haitians and Haitian Bahamians.

It was one of the few churches standing in a Haitian community where many houses of worship either collapsed or were partially destroyed.

"This storm did not carry only houses but ... people too, so many people get killed they don't have time to pick them up," said Pasterain Sitoir, 78, the pastor of First Beraca Baptist Church, where more than 200 people took shelter and survived. "In the next couple of weeks this will be a dangerous place to be."

As storm-ravaged evacuees continued to abandon Abaco for Nassau, the Bahamas' capital, on Sunday, concerns and fears were mounting nearly 300 miles away in Florida over the fate of the Haitian survivors.

The worries of South Florida's Haitian community are rooted in the Bahamas' history of xenophobia and contempt for Haitian migrants amid an illegal migration problem. They have gained momentum as unconfirmed photos of dead Haitians inside a church and hate-filled anti-Haitian voice notes get shared on the WhatsApp social media platform.

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In one note, a woman with a Bahamian accent, responding to unfounded rumors that Haitians in Abaco were looting after Dorian, called for Haitians to be rounded up and shot in the head. Another viral note, this one by a Haitian man, accused the pastor of an influential Nassau-based mega church of preaching that Haitians are to blame for Dorian because of their belief and practice of Vodou.

Contacted by the Miami Herald, the pastor, Bishop Neil Ellis, was confused -- and dismayed.

"That's not even my theology that people are responsible for storms and hurricanes," said Ellis, who said he was out of the country and had not preached since the hurricane. "That's a part of nature; that's climatic. That's not people driven."

Ellis said the only conversation he's had about Haitians since Dorian was a private one. The topic of The Mudd, the destroyed Haitian shantytown in Abaco, was raised and whether the Bahamas should seek to deport Haitians.

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