Disaster Response

CBF Disaster Response in the Bahamas Following Hurricane Dorian: The Rest of the Story

By Rick Burnette

Hurricane Dorian moved into the northwestern Bahamas on September 1, 2019, and slowly churned across North Abaco and Grand Bahama for the next two days.

By the time Dorian moved north, high winds and storm surge from the Category 5 storm left behind widespread property damage and scores of deaths with most ports and airfields remaining out of commission for months. Survivors on North Abaco and Grand Bahama were faced with insufficient food, water, and shelter. Building materials, needed for recovery, would remain locally unavailable for an extended period.

This is the same region where eight out of nine CBF Bahamas church communities, associated with CBF Florida, are located.

With CBF Disaster Response better equipped for long-term recovery assistance as well as post-disaster spiritual care, little could be done during the early aftermath. The first step was to provide CBF Florida, already dealing with recovery efforts from previous Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Michael, with a $5,000 grant to meet some of most urgent needs. 

Within a week after the storm, a small batch of materials and equipment (e.g., pop-up tents, water filters, solar phone chargers, chlorine generators for purifying water) purchased by CBF Disaster Response, were shipped to North Abaco on a recreational boat. Additionally, Kenny Phillips, the Volunteer Disaster Response Coordinator for CBF Florida, was able to make an exploratory visit to Grand Bahama.

Over the next few weeks, in consultation with CBF Florida/Bahamas as well as the Baptist World Alliance Forum for Aid and Development (BFAD), a long-term recovery plan was developed. Specifically, Local Response Contractors (LRCs) would be hired to manage recovery efforts, provide spiritual care, coordinate the purchase and shipment of building supplies from the United States, and facilitate the involvement of volunteer teams.

The LRCs included Bishop John McIntosh and Christine Curry for the North Abaco effort and Johnette Bullard for Grand Bahama. Teruco Tynes – based in Nassau – was contracted to facilitate the spiritual care response. Additionally, Melissa Rodriquez, a CBF Florida Administrative Assistant, was hired to coordinate volunteer registration and handle the logistics of purchasing bulk orders of building supplies for shipment to the Bahamas.

After ferry service resumed between Ft. Lauderdale and Freeport (Grant Bahama) in late October, an initial shipment of 14 pallets of equipment (including six donated generators) and a small batch of building materials was delivered to Freeport. And to initiate recovery on North Abaco, additional materials were purchased and shipped via ferry to Marsh Harbour when the port reopened in early November.

In preparation for anticipated volunteers in 2020, two small teams were sent to North Abaco in November and December. Kenny Phillips, who coordinated each trip, was accompanied by Wade Chappell, a member of FBC Roswell, during the first visit. In December, Kenny returned with Charles White – Volunteer Disaster Response Coordinator, CBF Kentucky – and Jeremy Colliver, Minister of Communications, Missions and Youth at Smoke Rise Baptist, Stone Mountain, GA.

Besides repairing roof damage for two homes, these initial responders helped the LRCs to evaluate food, lodging and transportation options for future teams as well as to assess more properties for recovery.

Additionally, by the end of 2019, three spiritual care volunteers (CBF and American Baptist) had been hosted by Teruco Tynes.

In February 2020, the CBF Bahamas North Abaco churches, coordinated by Bishop John McIntosh and Christine Curry, hosted 14 volunteers from Forest Hills Baptist (Raleigh, NC) and nine members of Calvary Baptist (Lexington, Kentucky). Their combined efforts resulted in the repair of a home and New Hope Baptist Church.

With momentum from the two CBF volunteer teams, by the end of March, the North Abaco CBF Bahamas community had assisted a total of three homes and two churches. 

Also in February, Teruco Tynes hosted a team of four American Baptist spiritual care providers who visited local Baptist leaders and offered counseling sessions in both Freeport and Nassau. Altogether, they engaged approximately 80 participants.  

Up through late March, Johnette Bullard on Grand Bahama received shipments from Florida and coordinated the distribution of materials to recovery sites for the repair of homes and churches in the settlements of Sweetings Cay, McLean’s Town, Free Town, and Pelican Point.     

Unfortunately, due to the covid-19 pandemic, two volunteer teams – FBC Greensboro, North Carolina and FBC Carrollton, GA – were forced to cancel their April trips to Grand Bahama and North Abaco. At the time, materials worth $50,000 had been purchased and were being shipped to both islands. Although volunteer teams were unable to assist thereafter, the CBF Bahamas communities continued recovery efforts on both islands.

By the time direct CBF Disaster Response efforts for Hurricane Dorian were wrapped up in December 2020, roughly $200,000 had been invested towards the purchase of building materials and supporting the efforts of the LRCs. In addition to funding from CBF Disaster Response and CBF Florida, Dorian recovery budget had been provided by BFAD partners with Canadian Baptist Ministries transferring $30,000 (CAD) to CBF.

Despite pandemic challenges resulting a lack of volunteers and recurring local lockdowns, by December 2020, at least two dozen properties had been assisted on both islands.

Without volunteers to assist with spiritual care, by engaging between lockdowns, Teruco Tynes continued to minister to numerous people in Nassau, particularly those who had been displaced by from their homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama. She also maintained regular contact with CBF leaders on both islands as well as the US.

A deadly pandemic on top of devastation from a Category 5 hurricane was far worse than anyone could imagine. Despite these challenges, CBFers and other Baptists were generous and cooperative.

And the CBF Bahamas community have been nothing short of resilient.

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