U.S. fishermen rush relief supplies to desperate Bahamians

By Paul Brinkmann
Captains and crews from around central and south Florida load generators onto the deck of the Sportfisher Alegra in Pompano Beach, Fla., on Friday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI
1 of 6 | Captains and crews from around central and south Florida load generators onto the deck of the Sportfisher Alegra in Pompano Beach, Fla., on Friday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

WEST END, Bahamas, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Desperate, sweltering residents of hurricane-ravaged Grand Bahama Island welcomed private fishing boats from Florida on Saturday that brought them food and supplies from 70 miles away.

"My home and my business were destroyed by the water," said Brian Seymour of Freeport, as he sat on a donated generator in the back of a pickup truck. "It's a huge relief to see that people care enough to come and help us."


The generator was transported on a large fishing boat that morning from Jupiter, Fla., to the harbor at the Old Bahama Bay Resort in the island's West End community. Hurricane Dorian strafed the entire island, destroying thousands of homes, but the very western end was spared the worst.

Residents said power and water supplies were non-existent on Grand Bahama, while thousands were evacuated from neighboring Grand Abaco.


More than 70 fishing boats crowded into the resort's harbor Saturday. Their captains brought water, food and supplies to the docks, where resort staff members sorted the cargo. Meanwhile, security guards tried to limit access to churches and groups that had relationships with non-profit relief efforts.

Just outside the resort's main gate, police stopped dozens of others who were seeking supplies.

About 40 cars waited in line at the gate amid the stench of rotting vegetation and overflowing septic tanks left behind by the storm's waves and downpours. Because the ocean saltwater had inundated large areas, trees and grass on the property died.

"There's so much desperation in Freeport," said Jackie Carroll, manager at Old Bahama Bay. "Their clothes are on the lawn, their furniture is on the lawn. They spent the hurricane trapped in their attics. We are trying to leave something for those who can't fend for themselves."

The resort also served as a focus of the relief effort after Hurricane Matthew in 2015. Still, by midday Saturday, the volunteer effort overwhelmed the staff, and Grand Bahama Bay posted a message on Facebook saying it was closing temporarily to any unscheduled relief missions.

"People were storming the resort and beach and a lot was taken. including drugs, baby formula and two coolers full of insulin that were desperately needed," the post said.


Many at the resort said small numbers of people hoarding supplies had been a big problem during recovery from Matthew.

One of the biggest needs, residents said, are cleaning supplies, including bleach, to disinfect homes, dishes, clothes and other items that were soaked in floodwaters.

"Morale is pretty low now. We've gotten no help from the government," said Asteir Dean, a private chef. "It's a mess. Especially in the east."

Dean said that despite his home was spared major damage, living through the hurricane was terrifying. He never lost cellphone service. He said nobody has any idea when power will be restored, though.

"We're happy to see the people from South Florida, but I don't think many people understand the amount of damage and loss here," Dean said. "Some people have only the clothes on their back. They were left with nothing."

He said armed looting and shootings in some areas are occurring, and he believes the government is intentionally minimizing the official death toll, which was reported as 43 as of Saturday.

Many of those who sought help Saturday also were dealing with grief and shock.

Larry Wilchcombe, a pastor for St. Peter's Baptist Church in Freeport, said he lost grandsons and a son-in-law to the storm.


"They got swept away trying to leave their house as it was destroyed and flooded," he said.

His home was also destroyed by floodwaters two months after he moved in to it. He was staying with family members.

"We're hoping to clean the church, and we need a generator for it," Wilchcombe said.

Meritta Strachan, a medical technologist at a hospital in Freeport, said she waded through 3 feet of water to get to her parish priest's house, where 30 others sheltered during the storm.

"My house was compromised. What we need most is manpower to help us move all the damaged flooded items out so we can start cleaning and rebuilding," Strachan said.

The volunteers who sailed from Florida faced some risks. Jim Mollica, a member of Offshore Anglers of Pompano Beach, said ocean currents could have carried storm debris, including cars or cargo containers, into waters around the island.

But the crew of his boat was cautious when it neared the island, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter stood on station just off the western edge of the island in case of a boating emergency.

Fishermen and owners of hotels and marinas that have long benefited from the Bahamas' proximity to South Florida felt a responsibility to do something to help islanders, Mollica said.


Sean Ives, manager at the Sands Harbor Resort in Pompano Beach, was expecting large shipments of water and supplies for another run to the islands as early as Tuesday, this time to Freeport. The effort is being coordinated with the National Association of the Bahamas based in Miami.

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