“My home-town has become a dried desert,” Joseph Thomas told this daily of McLean’s Town, following the devastation left behind by Hurricane Dorian.
Thomas, in an interview with this daily on September 25, when a Freeport News team was able to tour East End, said he hopes to rebuild the now unrecognizable settlement and is appealing to the community for assistance.
More than 85 percent of the homes in the eastern community were completely destroyed as a result of historical levels of storm surge and record breaking high winds.
Fortunately, for Thomas, his home was one that remained standing despite having up to six-to-seven-feet of flood water and loads of debris dumped indoors and in his yard.
Having already begun the clean-up process, Thomas called on fellow McLean’s Town neighbours to unite in the community clean-up effort.
“We must come together to clean the area and try to revitalize it. There is nothing like the comfort of your own home and I think that is the real reason why the folks kind of stench to move, because I don’t really leave either,” he said in regards to the mandatory evacuation.
“I don’t leave the comfort of my home, but then when you have common sense, you have to do what you have to do. I would stay here in a Category 2 (storm), anything over Category 2 I am getting out. I’m not sure I would stay here if the storm was coming out from the south,” he added.
Noting that he has spoken to the majority of residents in the community following the storm, Thomas said, many of them are in Freeport; however, they ride up to the settlement every morning and do some cleaning at their homes.
“I lost everything in my home and the water that was just raging from left-to-right, it knocked down everything. Right now, I have to get a pressure clean to clean the whole roof and then clean it with some vinegar, bleach and peroxide.
“I cleaned up the inside of my home, but at the time you could’ve seen the water under the facia board so everything in there is now gutted out.
“All of this debris,” he said, pointing to the mound of pine trees and trash, “came through the Pine Forest on the north side and when that storm came from the north, it brought all of this. Everything else came from the south.
“There was debris straight around my home and as I walked around to clean up, my hand was able to touch the roof.”
Thomas, who stayed in one of his son’s homes during the passing of the Category five storm, said discovering the frightful scene of his home and community was life changing.
However, he added, while some residents want to rebuild, others have opted to move out of the settlement.
“There are people who have said they will move back and there are some who said they are not going to come back. I think some of them are just shocked (right now), but I think when they settle down, they probably would come back.”
One of the residents that made the decision to leave McLean’s Town is Thomas’ brother. “He is already looking to find a home in Freeport, but I am trying to get him to come back because there is nothing like your community.
“I see there are a lot more folks saying they are not coming back, but it takes a people to keep the community. I hope when we start cleaning the place will start looking like a community again.”
Realizing it will take time to rebuild, Thomas admitted it may take years before the community comes back.
“These trees (mangroves) took such a beating and they look like they were in the forest for years, dried out. They look like they got battered so badly and as if it got hit by the sun, but Hurricane Dorian dried them out in 24-to-48 hours.
“I don’t even know if they will survive, because they took such a beating. They have survived a lot of storms, but they have never taken that kind of beating. Those mangroves use to protect the whole community, we don’t even have a shore line anymore, so I don’t know if the government will put up a sea wall, but our shoreline is gone.
“I hope the trees come back because when you look at these brown trees, it just looks like a famine. Everything looks like hurt and pain,” he said, recounting tragic stories, including that of a man who was reportedly washed away in the storm.
“I spoke with to a gentleman by the name of Harry, he was in his house and the roof blew off and he ran over to a Lodge that is across from his house and that roof blew off. So, he and a guy by the name of George Laing, whose body is still missing, tried to make it to the church.
“The water was coming with such force, so Harry said he told George to fight his way through to try and get into the church, but the wind kept blowing. Harry told me George got tired, and he climbed up in the tree and as the water kept rising, he let go because he was so heavy in weight. He couldn’t hold on any longer.”
He added, “The water washed him away, and Harry said when he noticed that he broke the church window trying to get something to catch George before he got washed away too far. He tied two cords together and threw it to George to catch; however, as he tried to pull him in the sea kept sweeping George away. It was then that George asked him, ‘What are you going to do Harry?’
“Water was coming from the north, and he only had the church as a help and he said every time he came out from the church, the wind kept pulling so strong and washed George away.”
Thomas, who is now in recovery mode, noted that building codes of Grand Bahama must be reconsidered and adjusted.
He said that the priority of safety must become a focus now, because of the historic flooding.
“We have one of the best building codes, but we will have to look it over because of the seriousness of the storm. And when you think of global warming and the events that cause storms to become more intensive, we must look at our codes.
“Maybe we can start building on stilts, and we have to do it right. It may cost a lot more money, but money can’t buy life.
“We also have government entities that usually ask for mandatory evacuation, but you can’t ask for mandatory evacuation if you don’t have the proper shelter to put them in.
“There must be shelters in every community and they must be hurricane designed shelters, not take residents to some church or a building and say that’s a shelter. You can’t say there’s a need for mandatory evacuation and there is no proper shelter, because that’s putting them in more danger and that is what happened with this storm.
“We must do better to build a safer Bahamas, and it takes a community to become more involved and more informed,” said Thomas.