Hurricane recovery in The Bahamas

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: hurricane recovery in The Bahamas.

A year ago this month, Hurricane Dorian tore through the Caribbean, devastating the northern islands of The Bahamas. More than three-quarters of homes on the island of Abaco suffered damage. The destruction totaled an estimated $3.4 billion.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Christian aid groups quickly moved in to help with repair and recovery. Samaritan’s Purse was among the first to arrive. Daniel Ruiz is a deputy country director with the organization and joins us now from Freeport to talk about how the work is progressing. 

Good morning, Daniel!

DANIEL RUIZ, GUEST: Good morning. Thanks for the opportunity to speak.

REICHARD: I’d like to hear how things are in those hardest-hit areas. Is rebuilding progressing quickly? Much damage remain?

RUIZ: Yeah, you know, we just passed the year mark since Hurricane Dorian made landfall and certainly a lot of work has been done through Samaritan’s Purse, other organizations, the government. But a lot of work remains. With the level of destruction that Abaco experienced, it’s going to be still a long road to recovery yet laying ahead. A lot of homes have been repaired, electricity has been restored to many areas, not all. Same with water distribution. So, the water network has been restored in many areas. But there are still communities that are without electricity. They’re without running water. They still have significant damages to their homes. Businesses are still struggling to rebuild, repair. Certainly the difficulty with the global COVID pandemic, which I can mention some impact from that as well, is affecting the tourism industry, which the Bahamas relies heavily on for their economy.

REICHARD: I know a lot of residents had to leave those areas shortly after the storm. Have some of them been able to return home, or are most still displaced?

RUIZ: Definitely, when we saw at the new year in 2020, in January of 2020, we saw an uptick in the number of returnees being able to come back to Abaco. And we’ve seen that throughout the course of this year—slowly people have tried to return just anecdotally through our hiring process. We’ve got a large number of local Abaconian staff. There is a shortage of housing and so for those who wish to return, they want to come back, restart their livelihoods, maybe they have job opportunities, but the housing isn’t there. So it remains the key barrier to the complete return of residents from before the storm.

REICHARD: You mentioned how much tourism has been affected by COVID. Most of the tourism stopped in March and here we are in September, same thing going on. How is the economy there doing, and how has that affected the recovery effort?

RUIZ: Yeah, with respect to the economy in particular for Abaco and in Grand Bahama, obviously the closure of international borders in the Bahamas earlier this year as a result of the global pandemic put a full stop to incoming cruisers on the cruise lines and tourists flying into the country through the summer period certainly that’s had an impact on the macro economy of the country. But the effects are felt all the way down to local business owners who on Abaco, they have been able to rebuild and restart and then for Grand Bahama. All of the small business owners that perhaps were able to get their business going pretty quickly after Hurricane Dorian hit. And then they were hit with the pandemic and the shutdown of the country and international travel. So, it’s kind of being hit with a one-two punch and they’re still in the midst of that.

REICHARD: What about churches in the islands? How have they fared in the last year and are they active in the rebuilding effort?

RUIZ: You know, one of the greatest blessings for me being here with Samaritan’s Purse has been seeing the local church in the midst of the destruction and pastors and church leaders going through all of that themselves, through Hurricane Dorian and the COVID pandemic, they have bounced back spiritually. Though their physical structures may still be in disrepair, the church has done a tremendous job to reaching out to the communities, being a place where people can come for prayer for spiritual, emotional support. 

And I can mention a couple of our projects that we’ve been able to kick off, again, despite the COVID pandemic. We’ve initiated a program where we’re training pastors and church members on how to respond both physically and spiritually after a crisis. And so giving them practical skills on things that they can do in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and then once you transition from covering immediate needs, how to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of people who have gone through that crisis. And that’s been very well-received. 

We’ve got great participation in those projects, and we’re grateful we can impart those skills on people, because Samaritan’s Purse won’t be here forever and we want to leave a stronger local church that can respond in future disasters.

REICHARD: Daniel Ruiz is a deputy country director with Samaritan’s Purse, one of the Christian aid groups working on hurricane recovery efforts in The Bahamas. Thanks so much.

RUIZ: Thank you.


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