By Kenton X. Chance
ANDROS, Bahamas (CMC) — North Andros is one of three administrative districts on the largest of the 26 inhabited Bahamian islands. Last Thursday it was among the worst hit as Hurricane Matthew tore through the Bahamas, destroying a number of homes.
On Monday social workers here were still struggling to find accommodation for at least five families. They said at least 31 houses had been destroyed when the hurricane, the most powerful to hit the Caribbean in the last decade, hit the island, and many others houses were extensively damage.
But at least one regional assessor said Monday that the extent of the damage is more significant than residents of the islands realise, saying that while some houses are still standing, they should not be occupied.
The hurricane did not constrain its fury to the living. It also affected a seafront cemetery, displacing crypts, caskets and human remains.
On Monday, administrators in North Andros were struggling to respond to the devastation even as supplies had begun to arrive from New Providence Island, where Nassau, the capital of the multi-island nation is located
A large section of North Andros remained without electrify, including the administrator’s office and the Nicholls Town police station, which is doubling as the command centre.
For days after the storm, the police station was the only place in North Andros with electricity, but the generator gave out Sunday night, even as the local electricity company had managed to reconnect power to a small section of the area.
The municipal supply of water was still not reconnected and those residents with well were unable to use their supply as electricity is needed to pump the water into their homes.
Telecommunications services, both fixed and wireless, remained offline Monday morning although the local telecommunications company had dispatched a team from Nassau one day earlier to try to implement a temporary fix after the telephone tower was blown down during the storm.
Senior manager at Bahamas Telecomms, Christopher Hinsey, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that his company was trying to restore mobile telecommunications services by Monday, adding that fixed line services would take more time.
Among the persons who lost their homes in North Andros were 49-year-old Kendal Evans and his wife Ethel Evans, who live in a six-bedroom multi-family house, in Lowe Sound, a low-lying area where the damage was most extensive.
The residents of the house also included the Evans’ six children, five grandchildren, his wife’s sister and brother and some of their children.
“When the storm came, we were in here and after the waves got so big, we ran out to our neighbour’s house. And when we were in there, the roof started flying off the other house, so when we looked back for our house, we saw when a part flew off. And when we looked back again, I said, ‘Man the house gone.’ It just disappeared,” Evans told CMC on Sunday.
“All we have left is the suit of clothes we had on,” his wife added.
The couple was standing on the concrete floor of the wooden house that was destroyed in the storm. On the platform were the couches from one of two neighbours’ houses that the Evans has gone to seek shelter during the tempest.
“The water started to rise in there so high, we had put the children on top a freezer,” Evans said of the second neighbour’s house.
Mrs. Evans, 46, said she has lived in Lowe Sound all her life and has experienced other storms but “none dangerous like this.
“Matthew looked like he came to destroy everything,” the housewife told CMC.
Her husband, a diver, was able to save his boat even though he, like many other residents of the area, had heeded the appeal to move their boats to higher ground.
However, he had no such luck with his car, which the storm deposited –along with a matted fishing net — among debris some distance away from his house.
Like much of the houses in Lowe Sound, the Evans’ home was located mere metres from the sea.
“Her mother, they built a house here and that’s where we just do it back over and add piece on to it and that’s where we continue to stay,” Evans said when asked why the house was built so close to the sea.
Lowe Sound is a low-lying area in North Andros — the largest of the 26 inhabited Bahamian islands. The community, to the northern tip is North Andros, is surrounded by water on two sides.
Ivan Fergusson, administrator for North Andros and the Berry Islands, said Lowe Sound was the most severely affected by the Hurricane.
“I was told by the residents that they saw surges as high as 10 to 12 feet and we had winds packing at about 140 miles per hour. Some persons believe there was tornadic activities associated with this hurricane,” he told CMC.
“The residents are traumatised because many of them have been displaced,” he said, adding that the island’s government had appealed via the district and national radio stations for persons in at risk areas to leave their houses.
“It was forecast that this would be a very dangerous hurricane and high seas and strong winds were associated with it. Many of the residents headed the advisories. Some of them were reluctant to leave their houses.”
Fergusson said that a video has emerged of an official appealing to an elderly man to leave his home, but he did not do so and then died of a heart attack during the hurricane.
“That was not directly associated with the hurricane, so we are fortunate that we had no deaths that were hurricane related.”
Superintendent Bruce Arnettte did not disclose the name of the deceased man.
“He was about 75 years old and it is alleged that during the storm he started to complain at one time about heart problems and after a traumatic experience in the storm he held on to a family member and died,” the police officer said.=
Amidst the damage caused, residents are thankful that the brunt of the hurricane affected the island during the day.
Fergusson told CMC that he, like many other Lowe Sound residents, feel that if the hurricane had struck during the night, they would have had “numerous causalities”.
“Some residents gave horrific stories of being trapped in their homes, trapped in ceilings, and, fortunately for relatives, they were able to rescue them… People showed watermarks in their homes where the water came up to five and six feet. It was a very horrific story,” said Fergusson, who added that in some instances, the storm surge went four miles inland.
Gabrielle Romer, chief welfare officer, of North Andros told CMC that officials were facing “serious challenges in accommodating” the displaced people.
She said that in an attempt to lessen the impact of the storm on the displaced persons, disaster managers were trying not to take them too far away from their original communities.
“We are trying to place those persons under roofs. That is our intention and I do believe that will happen by the end of today,” she said on Sunday.
By Monday, that had not happened and social workers were yet to find shelter for five families in the district, which has no official emergency shelter.
The impact of the storm is a further blow on the economy of the district and its residents, 90 per cent of whom were already receiving assistance from the social services department before the storm
About 80 per cent of the people in the area are fishermen and many of their boats were destroyed, Romer told CMC.
Relief supplies began to trickle into the island late Saturday when the airports re-opened.
At the Nicholls Town Police station, which doubles as the command centre after the storm, social workers were preparing relief packages to distribute to persons affected by the storm.
The packages include water, rice, canned food, bleach, female sanitary items, toiletries, skin lotion, sugar and flashlights.
“Basically a survival food items for right now. But we have persons from the private sector are coming into the community and assisting us with the supplies,” Romer said.
But even the police station did not fare well during the storm. The building, which was also housing the families of some first responders, started to leak during the storm after the winds wore shingles off the roof.
The generator also broke down during the storm but the police was able to seek secure some assistance in repairing it. The administrator said he was very concerned about the situation as the command centres provides services to the community and it is the link to Nassau and the outside world.
Superintendent Arnettte told CMC that police are focused on ensuring the people are safe and in shelter so that they do not come into harm’s way.
He said law enforcement was also ensuring that they prevent criminals from preying on the displaced persons’ properties and possessions.
To date, police had only received one report of an incident of criminal intent, the superintendent said, but did not give details.
“I think that other than the police being out there and make sure that the people abide by the laws, we feel that the community is going well,” he said.
Residents had felt that the storm was not going to hid as hard as it did because they were told that by 9 a.m. (local time) they would have begun receiving winds
Police received report of one major injury during the storm. The chief of security for Bahamas Agricultural Marine Science Institute (BAMPSI) suffered serious injuries to the chest when a pine tree fell on his car. He was airlifted to Nassau for medical attention.
There was another incident in which winds slammed a door against a woman’s hand resulting in the loss of part of one of her fingers.
The district’s administrators said that they were in dire need of chain saw to clean up fallen trees, many of which had fallen onto power and other utility lines, making the reconnection of electricity even more challenging.