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October 15, 2019

Little Miracles, Huge Problems: The Bahamas A Month After Doria

Just over a month after Hurricane Dorian slammed into the northern Bahamas, parts of the island nation are still in ruins, thousands of people remain displaced and rebuilding has only just begun.

"We are moving as quickly as we can to get up and running," says Michael Jones. "But when that will be is anyone's guess."

Jones is standing in front of the business he's run in Marsh Harbour for the last eight years. It's the largest town on Great Abaco Island and before the storm was the commercial hub — the only place with grocery stores, building supply stores, pharmacies and banks.

Before Dorian struck, Jones operated a combination laundromat, tire repair shop, gas station and convenience store. Five weeks after the storm, there's still no roof on the simple, single-story convenience store. The storm surge flooded his shop. He's still cleaning out the debris and rotted drywall. The cold drink coolers have been wiped down but sit empty. The washers and dryers are drying in the sun. Plywood covers most of the windows of his store.

But he's open for business again.

Using a generator, Jones is doing a brisk business fixing flat tires. He also had a fuel tank on wheels shipped in on a boat so he can sell gasoline. "Those pumps are destroyed," he says pointing to the battered gas pumps that sit under the tattered remnants of an awning in front of his store. "They'll have to be replaced. I'm looking at bringing in new equipment. But I know that a lot of the shipping companies are really backed up with a lot of freight right now."

Fuel is pumped from a mobile gas tank set up at Abaco Battery and Tyre in Marsh Harbour, owned by Michael Jones. All the gas stations in Marsh Harbour were destroyed in the storm.

Russell Lewis/NPR

Jones has a great deal of work to do to clean out his store, patch the roof and get his business functioning again. But so many people have left Great Abaco Island that he's having trouble finding workers.

"Labor is beginning to be very expensive," he says. "It's difficult trying to find persons to work right now. That's a frustrating part of this for me. My brother- in-law from Nassau came just to help me put the roof over the washhouse."

The Wrath Of Dorian

Hurricane Dorian first made landfall on Abaco on September 1 as the most powerful hurricane ever recorded to hit the Bahamas. It hit Marsh Harbour as a Category 5 hurricane with wind gusts of up to 220 miles per hour. It then slowly moved west, shoving a 20-foot wall of water into Freeport on neighboring Grand Bahama.

The massive storm system stalled, buffeting Grand Bahama for more than a day. Much of that island's east side ended up underwater. Several large industrial oil storage tanks were damaged, spilling 5 million gallons of fuel.

Exactly a month after the storm, Frankie Campbell, the national minister of Social Services and Urban Development, says things have stabilized on Abaco.

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