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Abaco After The Hurricane: To Stay Or To Go?


In the Bahamas, the government is offering free ferries and flights for people affected by Hurricane Dorian so they can get to the capital, Nassau. While many of the shelters there are full, the prime minister says there are still some spaces available. He's also calling on private citizens to open their homes to evacuees from Abaco and neighboring Grand Bahama. With so much destruction, particularly on Abaco, the plan is to move people off the island and offer them assistance in parts of the Bahamas that were not hit so hard.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from the settlement of Cherokee. That's just south of Marsh Harbour. It did not suffer significant damage, but residents there are still trying to figure out whether to stay or go.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Over the last few days, there've been wild rumors spreading about cholera outbreaks in Marsh Harbour, marauding gangs of machete-wielding Haitians and new hurricanes lined up in the Atlantic about to hit the Bahamas, none of which appear to be true.

The Pinder family, however, wasn't taking any chances. On Friday, they were loading their dogs and their bags into a skiff at the dock in Cherokee to catch a fishing boat to Spanish Wells.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Come here quick.

BEAUBIEN: Twenty-six-year-old William Pinder claims there's been a complete breakdown of law and order further up the coast. People are looting, and he's convinced they'll soon come here.

WILLIAM PINDER: Now the government says we can't protect ourself or nothing. If we shoot anybody, they're going to send us to jail. So are we supposed to just sit up there and let us get shot or chopped up?

BEAUBIEN: Most of the family is in the skiff ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Get the dog food.

BEAUBIEN: But one of the dogs keeps jumping excitedly out of the boat, and no one can get the dog crate to fold up.

PINDER: This here's left a lot of people devastated. You see my cousin here? He just got a bank loan. He ain't even a quarter of the way finished paying his bank loan. His house is ruined. The island of Abaco is going straight to hell.

BEAUBIEN: As the boat pulls out, William Pinder says he's not planning on coming back.

PINDER: If I have to go and find a new job and I get work, I'm not coming back here to guess what I'm doing.

BEAUBIEN: On Friday, Greg Albury decided he, too, had to get off the island.

GREG ALBURY: It's been tough the last 24 hours - really, really tough.

BEAUBIEN: A lot of his friends and family members have been leaving. A whole group of them had departed on a boat the day before.

ALBURY: I got really upset. Thirteen of my family members - they left yesterday. It's a very emotional day.

BEAUBIEN: Even though he has limited electricity and only sporadic water, Albury's house didn't suffer significant damage. He, however, used to work at the Abaco Beach Resort in Marsh Harbour, which was destroyed.

ALBURY: None of us here are rich people. You know, we're all working people, and we have to have an income. And without the income, I mean, how can you survive?

BEAUBIEN: Walking from the dock back to his house, Greg runs into his dentist Jacqlin Denise Archer. She's herding her family into a pickup. She tells Albury she's going to try to get on a boat to Spanish Wells.

ALBURY: The boats from Spanish Wells - they were here yesterday.

JACQLIN DENISE ARCHER: They're bringing another two boats.

ALBURY: They are?


ALBURY: We need to get our a**es on those boats.

BEAUBIEN: Archer, however, has to drive to Marsh Harbour first to pick up passports for herself and her 6-year-old son which she'd left at a relative's house.

ARCHER: The rumor about not being able to get in Marsh Harbour because there's some kind of cholera outbreak - is that true, or no?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There's no cholera outbreak.

ARCHER: OK, fantastic. OK, I can go get my passport.

BEAUBIEN: She says she decided to leave Abaco because she fears it might not be safe to stay.

ARCHER: The possibility that there's no law and order here. And also, there's my son. He has to get into school. School is just starting, so I can keep him on a regular pace.

BEAUBIEN: Albury rushed off to talk with his wife about the possibility of getting on the boats to Spanish Wells. Archer and her family drove off towards Marsh Harbour to collect the passports. That was two days ago. Today, they're all still in Cherokee. Albury continues to try to find a flight or a boat out. Archer has changed her mind and decided to stay. There were two main reasons for this. First, after seeing Marsh Harbour for herself, she says it didn't look as threatening as people said. It didn't appear there was about to be an uprising. Residents were just trying to survive.

ARCHER: Just driving around Marsh Harbour, it wasn't as bad as they made it seem. I mean, it's horrible because there are still dead bodies and stuff like that. But as in what I can see, I feel hopeful. I feel hopeful.

BEAUBIEN: The other key factor in her decision was that the teacher at Cherokee's two-room schoolhouse decided to restart classes today.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Does that rhyme with lamb (ph)?



BEAUBIEN: This morning, they raised the Bahamian flag outside the school. There were supposed to be 21 students starting this fall. So many families have left, however, that this morning there were only five. But one of them was Jacqlin Archer's 6-year-old. And for that, she's grateful.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Cherokee, the Bahamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORRE'S "TWO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.
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