Among those getting an firsthand look at the destruction left by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas are members of the Virginia-based relief organization Project Hope.
The nonprofit sends medical teams to respond to major disasters in the U.S. and around the globe.
“I’ve been doing emergency response for quite some time, and the devastation that I saw in Abaco Island was absolutely breathtaking,” said Tom Cotter, Project Hope’s director of emergency response.
“Every single building has been affected on this island, and many are uninhabitable.”
When Cotter flew into Great Abaco Island on a small plane earlier this week, he saw the airport surrounded by water like a moat, and a long line of people waiting to leave.
“Because the airport is damaged … they can only evacuate eight people at a time on these small planes. So it’s taking quite a long time,” he said.
Project Hope was one of the first emergency response organizations to arrive on Great Abaco, and it has already organized a shipment of supplies, such as water, soap and diapers.
“With the help of our local partner named Restoration Abaco, we were able to actually get a barge. One of the first aid deliveries actually to Abaco Island was this barge of health and hygiene products,” Cotter said.
The captain of the barge, which is normally used in construction and dredging, offered to ship the supplies from Nassau for free. The service would have cost $25,000.
“The problem with many of the boats that are available to us is that they’re fiberglass hull. In the water all around the affected areas is lots of debris. You actually can’t bring anything but a steel-hulled boat in, which is why the military from other countries have been really important in this response because they can get close when other boats cannot,” Cotter said.
On Thursday, he visited a small hospital in Marsh Harbour to see what was going on and find out what their needs were.
“Much of what the clinic is seeing is trauma. The storm winds were at 185 mph, and you can only imagine how much debris there was in the air. If any of that hit you, it’s going to cause quite a lot of damage to your body, and that’s what they’re seeing. A lot of what they’re asking for is splints, gauze, some antibiotics for cuts and scrapes,” Cotter said.
People are still being rescued, as search and rescue crews make their way from neighborhood to neighborhood. There is no 911 or other phone service.
“Individuals from the community are having to run to the hospital and tell them where the injured are so that they can come get them … It’s a very desperate situation,” Cotter said.
He spent Friday buying items that the clinic needs, and will deliver many of them on Saturday.
Cotter and four other volunteers arrived in Nassau Wednesday, and he expects more Project Hope volunteers to arrive next week, along with more supplies.
“We have about 40 volunteers waiting, and so we’re organizing with the ministry of health to put them where they’re most needed.”
Project Hope is focused now on immediate lifesaving work, but they will be doing much more.
“We’re working closely with the Ministry of Health here to make sure that we’re meeting the short term, but we’re also planning for the long-term health needs of everybody who was affected by this disaster,” Cotter said.
“That’s going to take some time. And Project Hope, we’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here.”