As Hurricane Dorian meandered slowly away from Grand Bahama leaving death and destruction in its wake, relief efforts in South Florida went into overdrive.
Tuesday morning, Miami Fire Station No. 8 quickly turned its gym into a makeshift
donation room as Coconut Grovites dropped off water and other essential supplies. Miami firefighters stacked boxes of donations neatly on the floor, as they walked back and forth taking supplies off of residents’ hands.
After a torturous two days, Dorian, which stalled over the Bahamas, has reportedly killed five people and caused devastating damage to the Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands.
The hurricane made landfall on Abaco Islands, Bahamas more than 48 hours ago on Tuesday, then moved over to Grand Bahama Island, where it had been near stationary until Tuesday afternoon when it started to move at 5 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center advisory on Monday said the area was experiencing catastrophic winds and storm surges.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dorian was packing 110 mile per hour winds as a category 2 storm, moving on a northwesterly track, away from South Florida, releasing Broward from the tropical storm watch. Dorian kept South Florida residents on edge since Wednesday when the forecast had it making landfall in the area as a category 3 storm.
The city of Miami resumed normal operations on Tuesday, as well as the county of Miami-Dade. Miami-Dade County Public Schools will reopen Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the county and the city of Miami officially began Bahamas relief efforts, way behind grassroots efforts that began as early as Sunday. County and city leaders encourage the community to donate tents, canned food, construction materials, hygiene products and water, among other items, to the different drop-off points.
In the mean time, the county will store all Bahamas-bound supplies at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition center located off of Coral Way and 107th Avenue, next to the main Florida International University campus. The central location was requested by the Bahamian government, county officials said.
Bahamas Consul General Linda Mackey thanked the communities from Miami-Dade County to northern Florida for their willingness to donate to the relief efforts at a Tuesday press conference.
“We are in urgent need of help,” she said. “As a people, we are hoping to get past the next few days.”
Viral social media footage captured shocking images of inundated homes, caved roofs, and rampant destruction through the Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian was the most powerful storm to hit the Caribbean island and the second strongest
Atlantic hurricane on record. Storm surges ranging 15 to 25 feet high swallowed homes and vehicles, according to different reports.
In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to have been severely damaged or destroyed, the Associated Press reported. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.
Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts, according to AP.
In Miami-Dade County, residents changed Labor Day weekend plans to start collections for storm ravaged Bahamas, while native Bahamians throughout South Florida continued to try to reach their families in the island.
Volunteers comforted husband and wife, Larryn Ingram and Angela Patrice, as they dropped off supplies at a Community Emergency Operations Center in Brownsville Tuesday Afternoon. The couple has family in Abaco, and Freeport, Grand Bahama, areas ravaged by Hurricane Dorian.
“I have two brothers in Abaco, and I hope they are safe,” Patrice said. She has not been able to communicate with her brothers following the storm. “We are not certain of their particular living arrangements and circumstances,” Ingram added.
Bahamian nationals wishing to contact their families in the islands are encouraged to contact the Bahamian Consulate General’s office at 305-373-6295.
Prior to county and municipal relief efforts, some volunteers began independent donation drives as soon as Sunday. Though Dorian spared Miami-Dade County as it curved dangerously up the Florida coast, some activists believe county leaders do little to help residents before the storm.
Volunteers met at Community Emergency Operations Center in Miami to wrap and pack diapers, first-aid kits, canned foods, water, toiletries, medicine, paper towels, hammers and shovels for the Bahamas hurricane relief. The effort is being coordinated by The Smile Trust, founded by Valencia Gunder.
Gunder, 36, wasn't happy that the county did not offer people the means to prepare for the storm.
"They don't offer before the storm. They do post-relief efforts," she said. "Nothing has been done for residents of Miami. No prep supplies have been given out except for sandbags."
Gunder has been busy working on emergency preparedness through her Community Emergency Operations Centers in Liberty City, Little Haiti, Miami Gardens and Fort Lauderdale.
"This is 100% grassroots volunteer effort," Gunder said Sunday, Sept. 1. "Resiliency is expensive. We come together to fill a gap to assist vulnerable communities and we believe our neighbor is our first responder."
Other efforts to help with pre-storm preparation came in the form of a food distribution drive. Gail Wynter, a Richmond Heights resident predicted South Florida would get a soaking from Dorian.
“If anything, we will get a lot of water,” she said. “I pray that we do not get hit.”
Wynter’s prayers were answered. She was one of over 500 families who picked up fruits, canned goods, and other nonperishables at a free food distribution set up at Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights on Thursday. The food distribution was spearheaded by State Rep. Kionne McGhee in collaboration with Farm Share, a nonprofit organization.
“Food is very essential, next to safety,” McGhee said.
State officials advise residents to prepare a food supply to last at least seven days.
“Preparation, preparation, preparation; there is no other way to describe it,” McGhee said.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez declared a state of emergency for the county on Friday.
Gimenez encouraged residents to fill up, refrigerate, and freeze plastic containers with water for drinking and ice. Residents should have a gallon of water per person per day for at least three days after the storm, county officials said.
As news reports showed residents rushing to get packs of water, the mayor assured the county’s tap water is good to drink.
HOW TO HELP
City of Miami residents can drop off donations at any of the 14 Miami Fire Stations, as well as Greater St. Paul AME Church: 3680 Thomas Ave. and Christ Episcopal Church: 3475 William Ave., both in the West Grove.
There are four county relief support drop-off locations in place, located at the Stephen P. Clark Center in Downtown, the Miami-Dade County Main Library in Downtown, the Joseph Caleb Center in Brownsville, and the Office of Emergency Management Warehouse in Doral.
Donate to the Smile Trust
Freelancer Philippe H. Buteau and editor Carolyn Guniss contributed to this report.