Displaced by Dorian — What's next for those left homeless by the devastating hurricane

ABOVE: Crews scour rubble in Bahamas for victims of Hurricane Dorian

As search and rescue efforts continue in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas, the United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been left homeless.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more than 13,000 houses were severely damaged or destroyed by hurricane Dorian — roughly 45 per cent of all of the homes on Grand Bahama Island and the Abaco Islands.

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Maria Christina Garcia, a history professor at Cornell University, told CNN that although the number of people displaced by Dorian is staggering, it is not unusual for a major environmental disaster.

“These 70,000 do not include the thousands who, though not technically homeless, will live in damaged homes covered only by blue plastic tarps,” she told CNN.

“You can still find blue tarps in the (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Puerto Rico two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

Aid workers are now faced with the enormous task of providing food, water and shelter to those who have lost everything.

Here’s a look at what is happening.

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90 per cent of structures damaged

In some of the hardest-hit communities, such as Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands, it is estimated that as much as 90 per cent of the infrastructure was destroyed by Dorian.

“What I was struck by was the focused nature of the devastation,” Mark Green, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told reporters on Sunday.

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He said some areas looked “almost as though a nuclear bomb was dropped.”

Forty-three people, including an Ontario woman, were killed by the Category 5 hurricane; however, officials have warned the death toll is likely to rise dramatically as recovery efforts continue.

Nassau and tent cities

According to a press release issued Sunday by the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), approximately 3,500 people from hard-hit areas, including Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, have been sent to the country’s capital Nassau.

NEMA says the evacuation plan is to provide temporary housing in Abaco to assist people who want to remain on the island.

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When evacuees arrive in the city, they are taken to the homes of families and friends or a shelter, the release says.

However, Bahamian officials have acknowledged that Nassau is straining to house all of those in need, and officials have been forced to look into alternate options.

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“We can look at the tent city concept and the container city concept, these are all support mechanisms to help us,” Stephen Russel, head of NEMA, told a news conference on Saturday. “Jobs may be a challenge at this time but long term we can house them.”

In a tweet posted Sunday, Kevin McAleenan, U.S. department of homeland security acting secretary, said 25 pallets of plastic sheeting had been transported from Miami to the Bahamas.

“These supplies will provide emergency shelter materials for 12,500 people in the areas most affected by Hurricane #Dorian,” he wrote.

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According to NEMA, several safe spaces have been identified to clear areas for temporary housing.

However, Red Cross spokeswoman Jenelle Eli told Reuters a home is “more than four walls and a roof.”

“It’s the neighbourhood where people live, their friends and neighbours, their livelihoods, comfort and security for the future,” she said. “People are concerned about their next step, but also how they’ll earn an income and what their lives will look like in the future.”

WATCH: Hurricane Dorian — Flying into devastation in the Bahamas

Florida and TPS

On Wednesday, Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump asking him to waive some visa requirements for citizens of the Bahamas.

In a tweet posted Wednesday, Rubio said Florida has “deep ties” to the Bahamas.

“Many Floridians have family living there,” he wrote.

In the letter, the Rubio and Scott called on the Trump administration to “waive, or otherwise suspend” certain visa requirements for affected citizens of the Bahamas who have relatives in the United States with whom they can reside as they begin the “process of rebuilding their lives and their country.”

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“Incoming images and media reports indicate that thousands of homes have been destroyed and the basic infrastructure of many communities simply no longer exists,” the letter reads.

“Perhaps one of the most basic yet meaningful steps our government can take immediately is to ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification in the United States.”

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When asked by the Miami Herald at a press conference on Wednesday if offering the Bahamas temporary protected status (TPS) is an option, Scott said “that will be a decision by the feds.”

Temporary protected status is given to eligible individuals in the U.S. from designated countries affected by armed conflict or national disaster. It allows the person to live and work in the U.S. for a limited period of time.

“Here’s the issue with TPS,” Scott told the Miami Herald. “TPS is only for individuals here. I’ve asked about it. I pushed with Venezuela. I know it’s something everyone will look at.”

However, in a tweet on Thursday, Rubio said the Bahamas is not seeking TPS.

“The #Bahamas has a stable & capable government. U.S. & Bahamian officials have a very close working relationship,” he wrote. “The Bahamas will recover.”

‘The height of cruelty’

On Saturday, the Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship arrived in Palm Beach, Fla., carrying 1,500 evacuees from Freeport in the Bahamas.

However, on Sunday, reports emerged saying dozens of evacuees were told to get off the ferry before it departed.

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In a video posted to social media by WSVN 7 News reporter Brian Entin, an unidentified person can be heard speaking over a loudspeaker on the ferry, saying anyone travelling to the U.S. without a visa must disembark from the boat.

Federal regulations do not require residents of the Bahamas to have a visa if they are flying into the U.S. so long as other criteria are met, including having no criminal record and showing a valid passport or travel documents.

In a statement to CNN, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it was notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport, and that it “requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas.”

In a press release issued Sunday, CBP said it “strongly encourages” private vessel and aircraft operators to co-ordinate any evacuation missions with Bahamian authorities before evacuating anyone from the Bahamas.

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“Conditions on Abaco and Grand Bahama Island remain difficult and human nature draws us to want to help, including in evacuation efforts, such as the story of the nearly 1,500 Hurricane Dorian survivors who arrived at the Port of Palm Beach, Fla., aboard a cruise ship Saturday.”

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Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Sunday called the incident the “height of cruelty,” saying it was “denying help to those who need it most.”

“This administration has said the words on the Statue of Liberty should be rewritten, and in their actions, they are already changing who we are as a country,” he continued. “It’s on us to prove we’re better than this.”

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In a tweet on Sunday, acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan said “no visa document requirements have changed.”

“Those evacuating from the Bahamas who are U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and those with proper documentation to enter the U.S. are being processed at U.S. Ports of Entry,” he wrote.

He added that CBP would issue “humanitarian or medical parole” on a “case-by-base basis” to travellers with a “proven need to enter the U.S.,” for a temporary period of time, to receive emergency care.

Some choosing to stay

According to NEMA, there is no mandatory evacuation order in Abaco, making all evacuations strictly voluntary.

And, despite the mass devastation, some residents are choosing to stay in the Bahamas.

Jackson Blatch lives in Marsh Harbour’s Murphy Town neighbourhood. It is there that he and his son-in-law have begun to rebuild their home.

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“Everybody says, ‘Leave.’ Leave and go where?” Blatch said to the Associated Press. “My plan is to rebuild this island. I have a lot to offer.”

Unlike almost every other home on Abaco, Blatch’s house had little damage. He is a builder who prides himself on quality work. When mixing concrete, he never skimps, always precisely blending the recommended amounts of cement, sand and gravel for floors, columns and ceilings.

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When he poured his walls and floors, he laced them thick with rebar, constructing a powerful skeleton that resisted the storm.

“I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t want to go to Nassau,” he said. “I don’t want to go to the United States. I don’t want to depend on anyone.”

International aid

According to Youssouf Abdel-Jelol, UNICEF’s deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, the damaged infrastructure makes the delivery of humanitarian aid “extremely difficult.”

“The most vulnerable families, especially children are likely to be the hardest to reach,” he said in a news release.

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“The full scale of the destruction on the ground is still being assessed, but initial assessments indicate that in some parts of Abaco, roads, ports and other transport facilities have been partly or totally destroyed,” he said.

However, despite the challenges, support from the international community continues to pour in.

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USAID has pledged US$2.8 million for relief efforts and the American Red Cross has also donated $2 million to the Bahamas.

The U.S. Coast Guard has also been deployed to the Bahamas. As of Sunday, the force said it had rescued 308 people.

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In a tweet posted on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would be pledging $500,000 to the Bahamas for “initial emergency assistance.”

In a news release issued Saturday, Global Affairs Canada said Canada is providing additional emergency assistance to communities in the Bahamas affected by Dorian.

“Canada has been deeply distressed by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian,” foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement. “In particular, we would like to express our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who died. We stand ready to provide assistance to the people of the Bahamas as they begin their recovery efforts and to Canadian citizens who require consular services.”

Canada on Friday deployed a CC-130 Hercules aircraft to provide airlift support to the Jamaican Defence Force’s disaster assistance response team, the release says.

Global Affairs Canada says a disaster assistance team that includes experts from Global Affairs Canada and the military has been deployed to Nassau to “assess the needs on the ground and establish what additional support may be required.”

—With files from Rachael D’Amore, The Associated Press and Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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