Bahamas struggles to rebuild one year after Hurricane Dorian amid coronavirus pandemic

It’s an agonizing anniversary in the Bahamas. A memorial has been set up on one of the islands hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian to honor the lives lost.

The Category 5 storm caused death and mass destruction one year ago. Much of the island chain is still struggling to rebuild, a process made that much more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic. Kevin Ozebek has a look in tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Hurricane Dorian roared into the Bahamas on Sep. 1, taking homes and businesses apart piece by piece.

Bernadette Johnson: “We had winds up to 180 miles an hour.”

More than 70 people died and some are still missing. Memories of the long days after the storm are echoes of a nightmare.

Lance Pinder: “Everything was just a disaster. It was just unbelievable, what it was like.”

This is Grand Bahama Island today. Evidence of Dorian’s wrath is everywhere.

And now, a medical storm called COVID is creating another challenge for people just trying to get their lives back.

Bernadette Johnson: “I started rebuilding. Business opened up back in January.”

Months after Dorian hit, Bernadette Johnson rebuilt her popular restaurant, “Bernie’s Tiki Hut,” on Grand Bahama Island. Now, COVID has taken the tourists and her business away.

Bernadette Johnson: “Hotels are closed, no ships coming in, no cruise ships coming in, no jobs, you know. It’s really bad. I have family in Abaco. I have family in Inaugua. I have family in Eluthera, Andros — everybody’s singing the same song.”

Many homes here in Freeport, and even the main hospital, are still under repair.

And even now, people have to line up for water.

Katherine Forbes-Smith: “Our main focus has been really debris clean up, housing, temporary, long term.”

Katherine Forbes-Smith of the Bahamas Disaster Reconstruction Authority says the government has spent $30 million on cleanup alone.

Katherine Forbes-Smith: “We’ve moved about 3 million cubic yards of debris. As far as debris is concerned, we feel like we’re about 90% where we want to be.”

But on the hard-hit Abaco islands, power is only partially restored. Many remain homeless, and businesses are struggling.

Lance Pinder: “The commercial center hub of the island is still… I mean, it’s a wreck. We don’t have a proper bank here right now. There are still people living in tents. There are still people living with tarps on their roofs.”

Lance Pinder manages Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm. A year later, the company has only built back two of the five barns lost to Dorian.

Lance Pinder: “If it wasn’t for the outside organizations from the U.S. and other places around the world that came here and helped us, I don’t know where we would be.

In Marsh Harbor, the island’s one medical clinic was destroyed. Now, it’s operating out of a building intended to be a mortuary.

Dr. George Charite: “Our greatest challenge today is patients who require hospitalization and diagnostic services.”

Dr. Charite treats people with everyday ailments and injuries. He also sees some COVID patients and those with post-traumatic stress from the storm.

Dr. George Charite: “You often find yourself having to console people because they’re still having that deja vu from the hurricane itself, and it’s a continuous battle.”

For now, the battle to rebuild continues.

Katherine Forbes-Smith: “People have not been happy with the recovery and the reality is, Dorian, as a Category 5 storm, changed people’s lives.”

Right now, there is a 14-day COVID quarantine in place for people who want to enter the Bahamas. That’s enough to discourage many volunteers from traveling in to help, making recovery in the island paradise take that much longer.

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