Life after Dorian: Bahamians salvage Marsh Harbour in wake of tragedy, destruction

This photograph, which depicts a woman and a young girl, was one of several personal items salvaged Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, by All Hands and Hearts international volunteers from a home in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in September. (Photo: MAX CHESNES/TCPALM)

MARSH HARBOUR, BAHAMAS – The photograph that emerged from the rubble depicts a woman standing next to a girl, who looks to be no older than 7 or 8.

The girl is wearing a bright white graduation cap with a red tassel dangling on the right side of her face. The woman beside her smiles with pride. 

This photograph, now browned and withered along its edges from water damage, was one of only several personal items salvaged by volunteers from a home destroyed in September by Hurricane Dorian’s 200-mph wind gusts and 12 feet of storm surge. 

While the story behind the photograph is unknown, how it ended up beneath a pile of debris is a tale all too familiar with residents of Marsh Harbour, a town on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. 

An emotional recovery

For four months, some residents of Florida’s Treasure Coast have joined with volunteers from around the world to help clean up the mess left in the wake of the historically powerful storm. 

The most recent official death toll in the Bahamas stands at 70 people, but Bahamian locals said they believe hundreds of undocumented residents, mostly immigrants from Haiti, are still unaccounted for or are missing. 

Youth on a Mission, a service-based ministry in Vero Beach, Florida, has raised $100,000 and spent 33 days in Marsh Harbour since the hurricane made landfall Sept. 1, said the group’s director Richard Schlitt.

All Hands and Hearts Smart Response volunteers Corynn Benoit (left) and Ryan Ahlberg, both of Salt Lake City, Utah, high five as they remove debris scattered by Hurricane Dorian from a residential property Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. The international nonprofit has worked alongside Vero Beach-based Youth on a Mission to clear debris, rebuild and roof homes and clean out moldy walls. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)

“We’ve moved into the rebuilding stage pretty quickly,” Schlitt said Dec. 21 as he finished a week-long stayin Marsh Harbour, “I just see great things that are going to happen if people keep contributing and making time to go help.” 

The ministry group has worked alongside All Hands and Hearts Smart Response, an international nonprofit organization with volunteers from 144 countries. The non-governmental organization supplies relief to communities impacted by natural disasters, according to the organization. 

Together, the two organizations established a base camp at Every Child Counts, a Marsh Harbour school for people with special needs that experienced severe damage from the hurricane, Schlitt said.

“I just see great things that are going to happen if people keep contributing and making time to go help.”

Working out of the school, the groups have cleared debris, rebuilt and roofed homes and cleaned out moldy walls, he said. 

“Most of the local people here are very supportive,” Schlitt said. “They are all recovering emotionally and trying to fix their homes.” 

From the window of an airplane, what looks like hundreds of homes and buildings along Great Abaco Island are flattened from the storm’s unprecedented wind and storm surge.

And on the ground, cars, boats and massive railroad containers lay strewn and battered across the island. 

Over 120 days after the hurricane, it appears as if the storm could have blown through Marsh Harbour just hours ago.

Despite the extensive cleanup still needed, volunteers such as Liam Alabiso-Cahill are not daunted by the work ahead. 

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