Witnessing the impact of Hurricane Dorian on children in the Bahamas

Amidst the ear-piercing noise of the helicopter, I could hear 11-year-old Jahmaurae Moreau say that to fly in a helicopter was “pretty cool”. He was smiling but, minutes later, as we were leaving the island behind, a few tears rolled slowly down his cheeks

His mother Marianise and his 4-year-old sister Katheleh sat in front of us. Down below, Abaco Island got smaller and smaller on the horizon. Finally, the turquoise Caribbean Sea took over the landscape as we headed to Nassau, Bahama’s capital.

At that moment, looking at Jahmaurae, I felt like crying also. I knew what was on his mind.

A mom and her daughter in a helicopter seat.
UNICEF/UN0341858/Moreno GonzalezOn 6 September 2019, Katheleh, 4, and her mother, Marianise, are evacuated from Marsh Harbour in Abaco Island to Nassau, Bahamas. Their home was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian which slammed Abaco Island for 40 hours.

It’s been only three days since Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas as a category five hurricane with winds reaching 185mph (297km/h). It matched the highest recorded wind speeds at landfall and stayed over the most affected islands, Grand Bahama and Abaco, for 48 hours.

Jahmuarae left his father, his little brother, his friends. His home and school were destroyed. He left the life he knew behind. Like Jahmuarae, many children and their families who survived the hurricane have lost their relatives, their livelihoods and have been left with little water or food. After an event of this magnitude, children and adolescents are in need of psychosocial support to cope.

“This is what we have left,” said Marianise pointing at a few bags they were carrying with them. Jahmaurae held one tightly. “We have nothing else,” she added.

Today I could see the devastation from above and on the ground.

From above, flying over Abacos, I could see mile upon mile of destruction, with roofs torn off, scattered debris, overturned cars, shipping containers and boats, and high-water levels all around.

On the ground, under a baking sun, only a few buildings still stood in a sea of debris, where twisted metal and broken wood littered the landscape. Boats and cars were scattered around, and buildings were knocked off their foundations.

Catastrophic damage is widespread, but it is most extreme in Mash Harbour. Walking along one of the cracked streets of this town I met Benson Etienne (15), who was riding his bicycle to move around the debris and damaged roads.

An adolescent boy beside his bicycle with debris in the background.
UNICEF/UN0341853/Moreno GonzalezBenson Etienne, 15, rides his bicycle around the hurricane-hit Marsh Harbour, in Abaco Island

He was with his family in a two-story building when the storm slammed the island. The roof was the first thing to disappear, leaving the family of 8 out in the open with strong winds and rain. Then the windows broke. Before the walls collapsed, they managed to get out.

“We had to swim for our lives in dirty water, fighting against strong currents,” he said. “Now everything is destroyed, every school. There is no water to drink.”

In support of the Government and UN partner agencies, UNICEF is working around the clock to distribute lifesaving supplies to families in need. The first shipment of UNICEF water and sanitation supplies, including water purification tablets for about 9,500 people, is expected to reach the Bahamas today (September 7).

When Jahmuarae Moreau and his family landed in Nassau, the tears disappear quickly from his face. He saw, holding a big smile, his other brother waiting for him. They are finally reunited and will be staying at his relative’s home.

The future is uncertain, but seeing a family back together gives me hope. As Jahmuarae has shown me, there is no time for crying. It’s time to take action and be stronger, working together.

Manuel Moreno Gonzalez is a Communication Specialist at UNICEF’s Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office 

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