Compassion Fund: Global Disaster Response
Project # 40043
Michael Behmar

Hurricane Dorian Devastates Bahamas

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Sep 26, 2019

**Update 9/26/19**

Earlier this week MTW’s Global Disaster Response (GDR) ARAT (Advanced Resource Assessment Team) met with GDR leadership to discuss next steps in our efforts to respond to the devastation from Hurricane Dorian.

The most urgent perceived and felt need is psychological trauma care for both victims and responders. GDR plans to provide support through crisis counseling teams as well as training seminars to train-the-trainer. Train-the-trainer counseling instruction can be provided to the pastors and laypersons as well as social service workers, school counselors, and EMS/fire/police/military emergency workers. The concern mentioned repeatedly by the ARAT team is for the well-being of the responders as they will be working physically in the disaster for the foreseeable future. 

New Providence, Grand Bahama, and Abaco all need trauma stress debriefing, but a number of extensive challenges exist. Abaco is utterly and thoroughly destroyed and to a similar extent, Grand Bahama. In most disasters, it is a short trip to the edge of the disaster zone. In this case, there is no edge. The entire island is the zone. As a result, there is little to no access to resources (food, water, shelter) to support teams. Any GDR team deployed there would have to spend the entire time in the actual disaster zone, and the only way to leave the zone is by water or by air. At this time, there are no commercial flights that fly into Grand Bahama or Abaco from the U.S. which will add travel time for any teams or supplies that are needed. Crisis counseling teams and training teams will focus on New Providence and Grand Bahama when GDR can best determine the necessary groundwork for such trips. We are taking a wait-and-see approach with Abaco, as the conditions there are extremely difficult, and the situation is changing rapidly. 

The next pressing need involves remediation of structures: both roofing and mold abatement. The ARAT team has identified a community on Grand Bahama for the initial rebuilding efforts, which will be done working closely with Pastor Gregory Bowe of Community Bible Church. The rebuilding efforts will require both skilled and manual labor, and could be done using either local workers or the GDR team. Once roof replacements are done and drywall is being torn down, manual labor work can be done by short-term church mission teams; but at this time, the ground situation does not yet support sending church mission teams. 

All indications are that this will be a long-term, multi-year effort. Proper planning, resourcing, and partnering for this sustained effort is crucial to success. Dr. Julian Russell and Covenant Life Presbyterian Church, New Providence, will be an integral part of the support and rebuilding effort in the Bahamas and GDR is committed to supporting them through this whole endeavor.

The scope of the work that is needed in the Bahamas is vast, and resources are limited. Please give to MTW’s Compassion Fund to help MTW’s Global Disaster Response respond quickly to disasters with God’s grace and hope.


** Update 9/20/19 **

Last Thursday, September 12, MTW’s Global Disaster Response (GDR) ARAT (Advanced Resource Assessment Team) arrived in the Bahamas. Over the next five, days, they were able to visit and assess all three areas impacted by Hurricane Dorian: Nassau, Grand Bahama, and the Abacos. En route to the Abacos on Monday, the team reported seeing from the air extensive damage to homes, roofs, and trees. The Abaco islands and surrounding Cays are covered in debris and wreckage, and the majority of the population has been evacuated to Nassau or elsewhere.

Based out of Nassau, the team coordinated with MTW Bahamas missionary Julian Russell, who pastors the Covenant Life Presbyterian church plant in Nassau. On the ground, the GDR team attended UN, government, and NGO briefings, explored the various islands to assess the damage and needs, and met with government and NGO officials—making connections for future GDR response. They were also able to meet with EPC pastor Gabe Swing and his church, Kirk of the Pines, in Marsh Harbour.

The team noted that the Abaco islands’ churches and schools, many of which were used as shelters during the hurricane, all sustained tremendous structural and roof damage. Having gathered the necessary information, the team has now returned home safely and this week is working with GDR leadership to form a comprehensive assessment and response plan.

“It was a good trip,” said MTW Director of Volunteer Ministries Mark Thompson. “It was very informative and extremely busy.”

With more than 40 NGO and government agencies coordinating, the response has decidedly shifted from search and rescue/emergency response to the next phase—rebuilding. With many buildings decimated in Grand Bahama and the Abacos, shipments of woods and other buildings materials have started to arrive from the U.S.

“Keep in mind, these are islands,” Mark said. “They don’t produce any of the products you need to rebuild things. … Some of the islands had pine trees, but they’re all gone now.”

What’s next?

With the ARAT team back in the States, Mark and the rest of the GDR leadership team will be spending the next week or so making a plan for MTW’s role in the longer-term reconstruction process.

“We really need some more funding,” said Mark. “The response has been good … but it needs to continue to come in.”

GDR’s first move will be to send teams, made up primarily of professional trauma and crisis counselors, who will be able to minister to the many displaced Bahamians now living in Nassau. They hope to send the first of these teams within the next three weeks.

“We have such a great opportunity in Nassau to reach out to these people,” said Mark. “They’re safe in one sense—they have food, shelter, water—but they’re still displaced. They’re living in these shelters and they’re traumatized.”

Though Nassau was not hit as hard as other islands by the hurricane, the influx of displaced people is making a huge impact. According to Mark, last week around 10,000 new children were registered into the already crowded Nassau school system, and have started classes.

“Further down the road we’ll need skilled labor, people in the trades,” Mark added. “Construction, electrician, plumbers, all the trades it takes to rebuild.”

We will continue to keep you updated as the situation develops.

Please give below to MTW’s Compassion Fund to help Julian, and MTW missionaries like him, respond quickly to disasters with God’s grace and hope.


** Update 9/13/19 **

By the latest estimates, roughly 72,000 people have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian: roads flooded, lives lost, homes and businesses destroyed. The vast majority of the destruction was centered on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, and around 5,000 people have been evacuated to New Providence, the island where Nassau is located.

“That’s a big influx of evacuees,” said MTW Director of Volunteer Ministries Mark Thompson.  “It happens that Covenant Life Presbyterian Church, the church where [MTW missionary] Julian Russell pastors, is across the street from one of our evacuation centers. So we have a great opportunity to minister to these people who have been forced to leave their islands. … Everyone is now really digesting that this is going to be a multi-year recovery and rebuilding process.”

Though the official toll is currently 50 confirmed dead, the Bahamian government said last night that 1,300 are still unaccounted for. Many more undocumented Haitians are missing as well, but without official census numbers, how many is anybody’s guess. On the ground in the Abacos and on Grand Bahama, communities are banding together and pooling resources to help one another and survive.

“There’s an overwhelming sense of Bahamian national pride,” said Thompson. “And lots of people are so thankful for the U.S. government’s response, as well as that of many other governments.”

EPC Pastor Gabe Swing and his wife were able to return to Marsh Harbor yesterday. While their home and all their personal possessions have been destroyed, their church, Kirk of the Pines, is in relatively good condition. The Swings are focusing on looking after the families that attend Kirk of the Pines, as well as the families of the young men and women who attended their youth group.

MTW’s Global Disaster Response ARAT (Advanced Resource Assessment Team) arrived in Nassau late Thursday night, and has met up with Julian Russell. They plan to stay until September 17.

For the GDR team, as with many disaster relief organizations on the ground, Nassau will serve as a command center from which trips will be made to the Abacos and Grand Bahama. Already, the team is attending a number of NGO meetings, trying to get their feet on the ground and solidify their registration as an official disaster response group with local authorities. Next, they plan to visit Grand Bahama and the Abacos, especially Marsh Harbor, to assess the situation and lay the groundwork for MTW’s longer-term response effort.

“They may actually spend the night in all three locations,” said Thompson. “They’re self-sufficient—ready to go camping. They’ve got their own personal water filtration systems, their own food, tent, bedroll, all that stuff.”

Please pray for MTW’s GDR team on the ground. Pray that they would have wisdom and keen insight as they assess the situation and plan for later response. Pray that they would be people of peace, able to bring comfort, healing, and the hope of Christ to all they encounter. Pray for safety.

Finally, another tropical storm is currently headed for the Bahamas. Current projections show that the storm will likely pass directly over Abaco and Grand Bahama from Friday evening through late Saturday. Though this is only a tropical storm, not a hurricane, it still will bring lots of rain and wind with up to 50 mph gusts. With the islands already so damaged, this only makes things harder. Please pray for safety and endurance for the people of the Bahamas.

We will continue to keep you updated as the situation develops.

Please give below to MTW’s Compassion Fund to help Julian Russell, and MTW missionaries like him, respond quickly to disasters with God’s grace and hope.

** Update 9/9/19 **

As another week dawns on the hurricane-battered Bahamas, more than 70,000 Bahamians remain homeless and in need of immediate food, shelter, and medical aid. Humanitarian organizations on the ground are reporting that the devastation is so bad in some places that the government is evacuating whole islands. Military-led search and rescue efforts continue to be a priority, but as the waters recede and the initial chaos settles, legions of humanitarian aid agencies have descended on Nassau to help. Vital infrastructure, such as roads, docks, airports, hospitals, and communication systems, have nearly all been badly damaged in the worst-hit areas, making response slow and difficult.

On the Abacos, initial reports indicate that the northern (wealthier) part of the island has weathered the storm relatively well. The southern part of the island, home to the island’s poor, undocumented Haitian population, is in much more dire need of help. In one hopeful bit of news, MTW missionary John Stodghill has discovered that Abacos EPC church Kirk of the Pines is miraculously intact. The floors are covered in water, but the windows and outside are okay. Praise God!

MTW Bahamas missionary Julian Russell continues to monitor the ongoing situation on the ground in Nassau, and is helping connect MTW’s Global Disaster Response (GDR) team with local contacts. MTW missionary John Stodghill is currently in contact with Bahamas Red Cross and others.

At Julian’s request, GDR plans to deploy the ARAT (Advanced Resources Assessment Team) earlier than originally scheduled, departing the U.S. on Thursday, September 12, and returning Tuesday, September 17. The current plan is for the team to fly into Nassau, spend a day on New Providence meeting with contacts, making connections, and attending NGO meetings, and then travel to Abacos and Grand Bahama from Saturday to Monday to assess the situation for further GDR response.

We will continue to keep you updated as the situation develops.

** Update 9/6/19 **

The Bahamian government announced yesterday that it is officially not allowing international aid groups and ministries onto the islands most impacted by Hurricane Dorian until next week—a measure aimed at keeping the chaos in those areas to a minimum and allowing search and rescue teams to do their jobs unhampered. The official death toll has climbed to 30 and, with hundreds still missing, is expected to rise every day.

Please continue to pray for MTW missionaries Julian and Christiana Russell. They remain safe in Nassau, but have relatives on both Abaco and Grand Bahama—the islands hardest hit by the hurricane. Even so, Julian is attending NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) meetings every day, gathering information and making connections for forthcoming MTW’s Global Disaster Response (GDR) team. Pray for the Bahamian first responders working to help the hurricane victims, even as they themselves likely have family impacted by the storm.

GDR’s ARAT (Advanced Resources Assessment Team) still tentatively plans to deploy on Saturday, September 14.

“They will have an emphasis on crisis counseling and setting up logistics for [what will be,] I’m sure, a longer-term intervention,” said MTW Director of Volunteer Ministries Mark Thompson.

We will continue to keep you updated as the situation develops.

** Update 9/5/19 **

As Hurricane Dorian begins to batter the U.S. mainland, government officials and relief organizations are starting to pick up the pieces in the Bahamas.

Thus far, officials have confirmed that the killer maelstrom has taken at least 20 lives. The death toll is predicted to rise. A preliminary report by the World Food Programme estimated that 60,000 people on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands are likely in need of food relief and other aid, yet—with Grand Bahama International Airport in ruins—getting supplies and medical care in has proved difficult. The Bahamian government, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, have rescued or evacuated scores.

“They’re still pulling bodies out. They’re still rescuing people,” said MTW Director of Volunteer Ministries Mark Thompson. “People are starting to get desperate.”

Gabe Swing, pastor of EPC church Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor, Abaco, confirmed that his home was destroyed in the Hurricane. Worse, several members of his congregation lost their lives in the storm.

“Another area of real concern is that both of the islands, especially Abaco, had a large, undocumented Haitian population,” Thompson added. “They lived in shanty towns and low-lying areas, so who knows how many of those people are missing or dead.  There’s no way to really find out, and those populations are probably in the thousands.”

Though the water has now largely receded in Marsh Harbor and Abaco, the flooding, and the crisis, continues in Grand Bahama.

“They’re still finding people that are drowning, trapped in their homes,” Thompson said. “The Bahamian Defense sent in their marines last evening, and they’re supposed to be reinstituting law and order. The U.S. Coast

Guard has had at least six helicopters there since Sunday, plucking people off of roofs. … So it’s still an active search and rescue situation.”

With the immediate danger from Dorian passed, hundreds of disaster response organizations and ministries have already descended on Nassau, and aid is beginning to find its way to the desperate population. USAID has sent 32 metric tons of relief supplies, including food and emergency shelters. MTW missionary Julian Russell has reportedly made some productive connections with the Bahamian government’s NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency).

MTW Global Disaster Response’s Advanced Resources Assessment Team (ARAT), which hopes to deploy on Saturday, September 14, continues to monitor the situation, but is being careful not to go too early.

“We are not search and rescue,” said Thompson. “We do not deliver immediate food and water needs… and it is still an active situation.”

“I’m monitoring [the latest reports] as much as I’m awake, and I’m probably only sleeping about six hours a night,” he added. “It’s changing all the time, and we’re trying to adapt as the situation evolves.”

We will continue to keep you updated as the situation develops.

** Update 9/4/19 **

After two days of torrential rain, massive storm surges, and sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, Hurricane Dorian has finally moved past the Bahamas. It has left a watery wasteland in its wake.

“A Category 5 hurricane is like a tornado the size of New Jersey,” said MTW Director of Volunteer Ministries Mark Thompson. “[On the Abaco islands] there’s nothing left. There’s no place for people to live or even shelter. … So, it’s a very fluid situation.”

Following aerial reconnaissance yesterday, the Bahamian government finally gave the all clear earlier today, deeming it safe enough to release government resources to those in need. First response aid organizations, such as Samaritan’s Purse, have already begun to mobilize, though with difficulty. Though the airport in Nassau is open, there are still no flights to the hardest hit areas such as Elbow Cay and Marsh Harbor in the Abaco islands. Their airfields are underwater, and there is still no forecast as to when the waters will recede. For the moment, the only way in or out is by sea.

There have also been numerous reports of well-intentioned private citizens setting out from the mainland in boats full of supplies, determined to help, but mostly causing chaos and congestion. Both the Bahamian and American governments are urging people to not bring their boats over, and to let the government and aid organizations handle the situation.

“Our immediate plan for disaster response is to send an Advanced Resource Assessment Team (ARAT),” said Thompson. “We are tentatively planning to deploy on September 14, but we’re not punching tickets yet because the situation is so fluid.”

The ARAT team, composed of two crisis intervention counselors, a paramedic, and an engineer/logistics expert, will deploy to the Bahamas and, working with and through MTW missionaries Dr. Julian and Christiana Russell and their contacts, meet with key Bahamian officials, Red Cross staff, and local church leaders, to determine how MTW can help most effectively.”

“It’s going to be a long response,” said Thompson.

We will continue to keep you updated as the situation develops.

** 9/3/19 **

On Sunday, September 1, Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas. The Category 5 hurricane is reportedly the strongest in history to hit the islands, and it has caused and is causing massive damage.

“It’s been catastrophic, and that’s not an understatement,” said MTW Director of Volunteer Ministries Mark Thompson. “In Marsh Harbor, Abaco, and Grand Bahama … It’s just been total destruction.”

MTW missionary Dr. Julian Russell, pastor of Covenant Life Presbyterian Church, and his wife, Christiana, are safe.  Their home in Nassau was mercifully spared the worst of the storm, yet residents of other islands have been harder hit.

Gabe Swing, a pastor of EPC church Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor, Abaco, and a Reformed brother in Christ, was out of the country when the storm hit, but has heard reports that his house is uninhabitable, and vehicles have been damaged. Kirk of the Pines’ church building itself is in an area that has seen massive flooding and wind damage.

“We haven’t been able to put eyes on it,” Thompson said. “But it’s most likely gone.”

Throughout the Bahamas, people have lost their homes and possessions. Some have lost their lives. Even now, Dorian (downgraded to a Category 2) is sitting over Grand Bahama and continues to wreak havoc as it slowly makes its way toward the U.S. mainland.

As the islands reel, Julian has made an appeal to MTW for assistance and help for Bahamians in the days to come. He has also made an appeal for assistance on behalf of our EPC brothers in Christ. In response, MTW’s GDR Ministry is actively assessing the situation to determine the best way to provide help to both for longer-term recovery efforts.

“We’re not sure what that looks like yet,” Thompson said. “It will probably be multifaceted: money and possible physical help as well. Typically [in these situations,] we send in a disaster response assessment team, which is very specialized: a medical person, a mental health professional, and an engineer/construction person. … Since the airport in Marsh Harbor is still under water, they probably won’t be able to even get there until Friday or Saturday.”

We will keep you updated as the situation in the Bahamas, and GDR’s response, continues to develop.

Please give to MTW’s Compassion Fund to help Julian Russell, and MTW missionaries like him, respond quickly to disasters with God’s grace and hope.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

Compassion Fund: Global Disaster Response
Project # 40043
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