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Amid crush of Dorian refugees, Bahamas capital 'not built to handle this,' official says

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

Some had initially resisted the evacuation fearing they might be deported back to Haiti -- despite government assurances to the contrary.

Jean Baptiste Wilson, 29, moved to Abaco from Haiti seven months ago, and lost what little he had to the storm. He was holed up at a church when Dorian roared in and he had to tread water for half an hour to stay alive.

Although he was initially worried about taking the free ferry ride to Nassau because he's an undocumented migrant, he said the level of destruction he saw put it all into perspective.

"I would rather be deported without a penny than stay in Abaco," he said.

The evacuation of the Bahamas' hard-hit areas seemed to be hitting a turning point Monday, as some planes and boats were returning to Nassau only partially filled.

Jean Louis McDonald, a Bahamian native who lives in West Palm Beach, was part of a team that chartered two planes to rescue 18 friends and family members stranded in Abaco. But when they arrived on the island Monday they couldn't find anyone with enough gasoline to search for the victims, and telephones weren't working. So they filled their planes with strangers from Marsh Harbour.

 

"We found two guys staying at an abandoned home sleeping on the floor," McDonald said. "Everyone has such limited options."

Once in Nassau, evacuees are given food, water and toiletries. Those who don't have family are shuttled to shelters. The level of support and coordination in the capital is in stark contrast to Abaco, where the government's presence seemed anemic at best.

Reid, the shelter administrator, said the international community needs to recognize that the Bahamas was operating in uncharted territory.

"We don't need people judging us at this particular time, we don't need people condemning us or our government at this particular time," he said. "We need you to rally behind us because it could have been you. It could have been us coming to your rescue."

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