Guyanese in The Bahamas: Dorian survivors appeal for Guyana government help

-‘We, who are strangers here, have nothing’

A view of the devastated houses after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Treasure Cay, Bahamas. (REUTERS/Marco Bello photo)
A view of the devastated houses after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Treasure Cay, Bahamas. (REUTERS/Marco Bello photo) 

“The article Stabroek News published was really helpful in making people understand where we were and what was happening because communication was really poor. Everything was word-of-mouth even with the rescuers who came in.  Persons who had the need to communicate out were not able to, so that story was very helpful and as much as you are telling me now about help from the Guyana government, we have heard nothing about that. I think sometimes government officials operate in a cocoon. They need to come out of the cocoon and interface with persons so we feel they are representing our interest. Even today I don’t how we can access help from the Guyana government,” Cecil Simon told Stabroek News.

Cecil and Olive Simon

Following the passage of the storm, Great Abaco Island, where the Simons lived, was devastated, with all communications systems destroyed and government services severely hampered.

“There are two [telecommunications] networks, BTC and ALIV. BTC was completely down and ALIV was only receiving messages. Olive has an ALIV phone and we kept receiving these messages of concern but we couldn’t respond,” Simon said.

The lack of communication was only one of their worries as they found themselves in a wasteland reminiscent of those “old western movies where everything was just gone.”

“Places built to the highest codes crumbled. When you look at the building standards in the Bahamas, it is second to none yet they failed. They couldn’t withstand the storm. The roofs and walls collapsed like paper. The newscasts keep saying the winds were 185 mph but these winds felt like over 200 miles per hour and you had to contend with that plus rain and storm surges. That’s a combination and half.  Steel and everything just crumbled. The place is like a wasteland; like an old dystopian cowboy film. There are gas stations with no gas, destroyed food stores and hospitals with no roofs,” Simon said.

‘Nobody was prepared’

He stressed that while they were warned that the storm was coming and took every precaution, it just wasn’t enough.

“Nobody was prepared for it to be so bad. We put everything in place. We took all precautions necessary and remained in our apartment because our house is on a ridge. These people have been through many storms before but even buildings identified as shelters crumbled, their roofs caved in.  That’s why the government system became crowded. Nobody expected a Category 5 hurricane for four days,” he lamented.

Describing the storm, Simon said it hit at about 2 am on August 31 and stayed for four days.

“At about two Saturday morning [August 31], that’s when the whole thing started to show its face. It picked up momentum on Sunday [September 1] and battered us for Sunday and Monday and waned on Tuesday but there was still rain. We were warned prior to the storm about precautions and we took them but within the space of a couple of minutes, the storm surges submerged all the vehicles on the street and when it really gathered strength on Sunday, those vehicle became tin cans flipping and flying. The winds were howling and the rain was beating down at a pace. You couldn’t see outside and we spent a lot of time hoping that at least the roof wouldn’t go. We could feel the breeze pulling on it, it really wanted to come off but it held,” he shared.

Simon is grateful for all those who prayed for him and his wife but as a “practical man,” he is also grateful for the Stabroek News article published on Wednesday, which highlighted to his employers that he and his wife were considered missing.

“My principal has said to me they left our names with the evacuation system but though we visited the government support building several times, there was no one to talk to. Things were chaotic and there were no specific directions about what to do,” he explained.

Eventually, they were able to hitch a ride with a former student to the Marsh Harbor airport where there was one taxi driver working.

“I’m not sure how he got gas because even the defence officers and emergency officials had no vehicles but we were able to pay him to take us 65 miles to Treasure Cay. That’s where we [were] told that we were to be a part of the evacuation system,” Simon recalled.

He explained that while they and some others were able to make it out, they now face a new challenge as they have nothing with them.

“When they bring you to Nassau, we, who are strangers here, have nothing. The scale of the operations is something else. They [Bahamian government] did make the effort and are still making the effort but are hampered by poor transportation and communication. How do you reach everyone on mainland Abaco and the cays?” he questioned.

Looking for a way out

According to Simon, several Guyanese, including six who worked with him at St Francis De Sales Catholic School in Abaco, are currently in housing provided by The Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency.

“All we walked with was hand luggage. [We] packed up other essentials in the house. We were brought to Nassau and we are staying with a cousin. The Catholic Board [their employer] has arranged a meeting on Monday to discuss the way forward,” he related.

Simon repeatedly stressed that Great Abaco Island is completely devastated and those persons still on the island are looking for a way out.

He explained that since school opened on August 28th, all the teachers were on the island when Dorian hit and therefore are in need of assistance.

“There was classroom preparation and workshops two weeks before the opening so we were all here,” he noted.

Sunday Stabroek reached out to Guyana’s Civil Defense Commission (CDC), which is coordinating government’s response to Dorian, for information on efforts being made to assist and possibly transport Guyanese impacted by the storm.

Senior Response Officer Salim October told this newspaper that a WhatsApp group was established to offer logistics support to Guyanese on the islands.

He indicated that permission has been granted for the necessary process to be activated through the Department of Citizenship with support from the Minister of State.

On his Facebook page, October posted, “If there are any Guyanese on here who are affected or know of those who are affected by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas please contact me via PM or WhatsApp 592-662-0671. We at the Civil Defence Commission have set up a WhatsApp group to receive such updates and reports. All we require is a telephone number and name and designation to add to the group. We are also welcoming members of the Bahamas Guyanese Association.

Jairam Mangra

Up to press time, this post had been shared 22 times and October indicated that no one had requested assistance.

Asked for a possible contact person in The Bahamas whom persons could interface with, October identified the President of the Bahamas Guyanese Association, Carol Swaving but could provide no contact information for publication.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, Guyana’s Honorary Consul in The Bahamas is Jairam Mangra, whose offices are at Suite 12 Bayparl Building 18, Parliament Street, Nassau, The Bahamas. His office number is (+1 242) 328 2883

Meanwhile, the Guyana Teachers’ Union has reached out to its membership to request support for the many teachers of Guyanese nationality who have been affected by Dorian.

A post on its Facebook page indicated that the union is soliciting financial donations of whatever amounts which will be sent to the teachers’ union in The Bahamas. Donations can be made directly to the GTU Head Office in Georgetown or through the respective GTU branches. All monetary donations must be channeled through the Branch Treasurer, the post said.
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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On September 10, 2019 at 4:04 am

    Come on Mr President !
    Let’s show compassion for these
    unfortunate and destitute folks.

    This is more a political than an economic
    one.

    Certainly is a vote winner !

    Kamtan

  • Jasmine  On September 10, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    I think the problem at this moment is lack of communication as this couple stated. I’m sure the government is in the process of trying to get the Guyanese people affected out. Hopefully the next communique we read will say that they have been successful.

  • guyaneseonline  On September 10, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Guyana Consul Jairam Mangra trying to account for Guyanese in hurricane-ravaged Bahamas
    By Stabroek News September 10, 2019

    The Guyanese consulate in The Bahamas is working to locate several of the approximately 80 Guyanese families who have registered as residents of Grand Bahama as well as the significant number of teachers who are operating in the public school system of the hurricane-ravaged island chain.

    “A large number of Guyanese teachers remain unaccounted for. I am hoping to meet [today] with the Permanent Secretary and the Minister of Education to possibly account for these teachers and to ascertain the government’s plan for those teachers who are in the government system,” Honorary Consul for Guyana, Jairam Mangra told Stabroek News from The Bahamas last evening.

    Mangra had just met with approximately a dozen Guyanese teachers who had been employed by the Catholic Board in the private school system. These teachers including Buxtonians Cecil and Olive Simon had been evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama.

    The consul explained that the Director of Education has announced that they are looking to relocate those teachers displaced to other islands but that he has advised that they take time to question what facilities and amenities are present on these islands before they accept relocation.

    Other information on the way forward remains sketchy as most agencies remain in fact-finding mode but the consul is also making efforts to have essentials such as water delivered to those nationals who have requested that type of assistance.

    Mangra noted that while numbers are not clear several of those affected in Grand Bahama have been evacuated to New Providence where they are staying with relatives while some chose to remain in Grand Bahama and are asking for relief supplies.

    The difficulty, he explained is that while they have access to boats willing to make deliveries transport is curtailed.

    “In Abaco for example boats are not allowed to dock,” he noted.

    Additionally Guyanese have not registered with the consulate therefore there is no information as to the exact number of nationals and where they might have been located when Hurricane Dorian hit.

    “From my records we have at 80 families who reside in Grand Bahama-East end, West end and Freeport. It is an extensive island so communication has been challenged but we have no reported casualties or fatalities among Guyanese in Grand Bahama. I’m not sure of what is happening in Abaco. We have 20 families registered there,” Mangra explained.

    He noted that he has been in daily communication with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here and has been doing “leg work” to try and locate persons following the disruption in the telecommunication services.

    “In many cases telephone calls are just not going through, the lines are too busy,” he explained.

    While evacuation from The Bahamas to Guyana is not yet feasible Mangra stressed that he was available to provide documentation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has assured that should documentation be required they will facilitate the provision. He advises any Guyanese national in need of assistance to approach emergency services identify themselves as Guyanese and ask for the consul to be informed.

    His offices are at Suite 12 Bayparl Building 18, Parliament Street, Nassau, The Bahamas. His office number is (+1 242) 328 2883 while his mobile number is (+1 242) 810-2424.

    Those families in Guyana who have not been able to locate family members are advised by the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) to file missing person’s reports.

    A statement from the RBPF on Sunday September 8 noted that officers had located and recovered 45 deceased persons from hurricane affected areas, 37 of these were from the Islands of Abaco and eight from Grand Bahama.

    The statement said that the force anticipates finding more deceased persons.

    Meanwhile, the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority has restricted use of the airspace over Grand Bahama and Abacos. Only aircraft providing emergency and humanitarian relief authorised by Civil Aviation are permitted to fly in the restricted airspace.

    Bahamian media have reported that a Bahamasair aircraft carrying regional government officials including CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet “had to make a ‘sudden drop in altitude’ while en route to Abaco to avoid a mid-air collision.”

    According to the reports, dignitaries including Bahamian Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis were headed to Abaco on Friday to assess hurricane recovery and relief efforts on that island when the incident occurred.

    The pilot explained the drop in altitude over the aircraft’s intercom as being due to the Bahamasair aircraft having to avoid another aircraft that refused to respond”.

    “We were all very fortunate that nothing more serious happened but this is a good example of why temporary air restrictions were put in place to allow only emergency and relief flights in the Abaco and Grand Bahama areas,” the report quoted Minnis as saying.

  • guyaneseonline  On September 10, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    Hurricane-weary Guyanese ask Guyana gov’t to evacuate them to their homeland
    Posted by: Denis Chabrol in Demerara Waves September 8, 2019

    Guyanese in hurricane-battered Bahamas on Sunday appealed to the Guyana government to assist many of them to be evacuated back to their home country as they have lost all of their belongings, homes and jobs.
    “What we would like the Guyanese authorities to do is to coordinate evacuations for the return home of those Guyanese who will want to come back home. We know that some people have lost everything and they may not be replaced at those jobs, particularly the teaching jobs,; some of them simply do not exist anymore,” Vice President of the Guyana-Bahamas Association, Vibert Williams told News-Talk Radio Guyana/Demerara Waves Online News.
    Guyana’s Civil Defence Commission (CDC) urged Guyanese in The Bahamas to call or WhatsApp that entity on +592-662-0671 .
    Williams said none of the Guyanese, who are residing on that archipelago, has been reported dead or injured. A number of them have been evacuated from flattened islands such as Abaco and Grand Bahama to the capital, Nassau.
    Williams said the association has so far accounted for 40 Guyanese, partly due to the fact that many of the estimated 4,000 Guyanese who reside there have not registered with his entity. There is an estimated 4,000 Guyanese living in The Bahamas.
    The Guyana-Bahamas Association Vice President also called on Guyanese back home to mobilise cash through a central organisation such as the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) and arrange to send it to a designated bank account in The Bahamas. Williams assured that all monies received would be properly accounted for. “The association will make sure that any donations, whether it is cash or kind, is correctly managed and accounted for and that it reaches those who need it the most – that’s our commitment,” he said.
    Foreign Secretary, Carl Greenidge, in reaction, told News-Talk Radio Guyana/Demerara Waves Online News that Guyana, being part of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), has to respond to The Bahamas’ needs. He said before Guyanese could be extracted and taken back to their homeland, Cabinet would have to decide on the forms of assistance and work out the logistics in collaboration with The Bahamas government.
    “To help them is something that requires some logistical work and it also requires coordination with the administration of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. It is inconceivable that in such circumstances, one would just pick up a plane and say that as many Guyanese as I can find, say look you all just come on board and we will go on,” Greenidge said.
    “But decisions about evacuation financial and physical assistance will need to be coordinated after we have a clear idea of the extent of the requirements. The Guyana government, he added would deal with The Bahamian government first and then individuals. We are in touch with the relevant authorities but are not yet in a position to send officers to make an assessment of what specific assistance assistance and its timing are feasible.”
    He said the Foreign Ministry was working through Guyana’s Honorary Consul in The Bahamas, Jairam Mangra, CDEMA and the CDC. Greenidge added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of the Diaspora would from Monday be available to respond.
    The CDC’s Senior Response Officer, Captain Salim October told News-Talk Radio Guyana that the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration was on standby to assist with replacing lost birth certificates and passports.
    David Denny said “the storm was so strong and it seemed like a monster” that did not merely toss around boats and buildings but destroyed them”. “It was so powerful that it was ripping roofs off…The winds were travelling at such a speed that we couldn’t even see far and even at 30 feet it was difficult for you to see,” he said.
    Stacia Pitt, who resided on Abaco Island, said she was happy to be alive and it “is not something by accident, it is a privilege from God” after enduring twisters, rising waters. “We teamed up and we cleared the road together and we were able to pass,” Pitt said from Nassau. She and others were airlifted from Abaco where several of her students have died and the school blown away.

  • Trevor  On September 10, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    4,000+ Guyanese working in the Bahamas, but only 40 accounted for?

    Concerning…

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 11, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    NASSAU, The Bahamas (CMC) — The Bahamas has no intention of signing on to the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has told citizens.

    He made his country’s position clear on his return from the 39th Caricom Heads of Government conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he told regional leaders that The Bahamas cannot support the free movement of people across its boundaries.

    “The Bahamas is not and will not be a part of CSME. Bahamas will not allow free movement of people within our boundaries,” Prime Minister Minnis said.

    • kamtanblog  On September 11, 2019 at 4:50 pm

      Only if they have millions to invest/bank.

      Tax haven !
      Money laundering !

      Corrupt

      Kamtan

  • Trevor  On September 11, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Jeffrey Epstein conducted a pedophile paradise in the Bahamas, yet the politician wants to refuse Caribbean peoples to move to their islands?!

    Hypocrites!

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