The report by David Smith says: “The Mudd, a shantytown that was home to the Bahamas’ biggest Haitian immigrant community, has been obliterated by Hurricane Dorian as if by a massive bomb.
“On Thursday a bare, crooked tree reminiscent of a desert wasteland was one of the few things still standing. Every dwelling had been destroyed. Cars were overturned. The ground was a wasteland strewn with blankets, clothes, fridges, shoes, rusty nails, splintered plywood, toilets and toothbrushes. The size of several football pitches, the Mudd was peopleless; no one knows how many died here and how many evacuated.”
The report continued: “Natural disasters often expose the gap between the haves and have nots and Dorian was no different.
“While the Bahamas has a reputation as one of the most desirable tourist destinations on earth, its luxury hotels and homes depend on a life support system of fishermen, hotel workers and laborers. Once again, it is the poorest who have been hardest hit when catastrophe strikes.
“Haitians have lived in the Bahamas for centuries but face poverty and prejudice, for reasons including religious beliefs that can include voodoo. A 2008 article in the College of the Bahamas Research Journal, entitled the Stigma of Being ‘Haitian’ in the Bahamas, noted that ‘Bahamians have long ‘looked-down’ on Haitians as not being social equals’.”
Built by thousands of Haitian immigrants over decades in Marsh Harbour on Abaco, the Mudd was wiped out in a matter of hours.
Some people fled, while there are countless others still unaccounted for.
“Some have evacuated by boat to Nassau. Some sought refuge in places such as the pink-walled New Haitian Mission Baptist church. At one point 210 Haitians gathered on its bare concrete floor, without electricity or running water. Now there are 45, including two children,” the report said.
“Tourism employs about half the Bahamian workforce and accounts for around half GDP. Abaco is renowned for its marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts.
“Even now, a leaflet at Nassau airport advertises the Abaco Beach Resort, including ‘a boating paradise unlike any other’.”
Harbour master Glen Kelly, told the Washington Post: “I’ll put it as raw as I can. We’ve always depended on Haitian labour, legal or illegal, to maintain this place. Now it’s a question of whether they’ll be back.
“Paradise comes at a social, economic and moral cost,.”
“The Bahamas has the second highest economic and social inequality in the Caribbean, according to the Latin American Economic Outlook 2019 Report. An editorial in the Nassau Guardian newspaper in 2017 warned: “Economic inequality is killing the Bahamas.
“As Hurricane Dorian approached, affluent people were able to get out early whereas the poor had to remain and try to ride it out.
“Nearly two weeks after Dorian made landfall, at least 50 deaths have been reported, more than 1,300 people are missing and an estimated 15,000 are without food or shelter. Many in the underclass lost everything.
“The operations specialist for the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said: “Any disaster, the poor people will be the ones that are punished. A poor person owns a small house and it’s not insured so when the hurricane comes and it’s washed away, that’s it. A rich person owns a nice mansion and it gets totaled but he gets money to build a new one. So that’s a big difference.
“Some of these people are living from hand to mouth, weekly pay cheque, so when something like this happens and they cannot work, they will definitely be dependent on government for support.”
There is growing concern that “undocumented Haitian immigrants may be reluctant to seek government aid lest they be penalized and deported”.
One official said: “In every country, including the United States, people are scared to come out and register during crisis time, because after the crisis is finished they fear that they probably have enough information on them to go and pick them up and deport them.”
Paul Taylor, the operations response manager of Team Rubicon UK, an NGO working with partners to coordinate and distribute aid, added: “As ever, there are people who do the work that the rich people don’t want to do and here that’s the Haitian community. There are lot of illegals here as well.
“I think the issue now is what happens to people who don’t have any status here, who might be quite concerned about that. You’ve got to evacuate people from the islands – big reconstruction job – but where do those people go?”
Meanwhile, the Bahamian government “denies that Haitians will be treated differently”.
A representative of the National Emergency Management Agency said: “People are people.
“All peoples need help, whatever their status. The Prime Minister was very clear in his remarks that we’re going to help all persons here, irrespective of their nationality or status. There’s no room for differentiating when you’re in disaster.,” he added.
Since Dorian slammed into the Bahamas more than a week ago, “the aid effort has been unusually complicated”.
Another report said: “The sprawling set of islands provides logistical challenges, but proximity to the US has enabled philanthropists to send over private planes full of supplies. These are welcome, but hard to monitor and can lead to over-supply, prompting grumbles about lack of coordination.
“There are also fewer entry restrictions than usual on individuals and organizations that want to help, leading to fears of a free-for-all. The Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency has acknowledged the frustrations. “This is a massive operation with many moving parts.”
While the official death toll has risen to 50, the report said: “Few aid workers on the ground believe that is anywhere close to reality.”
One official added: “Based on the reports we have heard from people on the ground, it’s going to be way, way more than what the government is reporting. We are ready for closer to thousands.”
Asked why the government figure is still so low, he added: “Maybe they’re getting the wrong information.
“I heard somebody said that they don’t want to send the wrong message in terms of tourism; nobody wants to come to a disaster. But I think the sooner we come to terms with what’s happening here, the sooner we’re going to clean it up and get people back here.
“It’s paradise and we just have to give paradise a hand.”
- Top Feature Photo: Photograph: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images