Bahamian Business Owners Debate Whether To Rebuild After Hurricane Dorian

Oct 4, 2019
Originally published on October 4, 2019 7:57 pm
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When Hurricane Dorian ripped across the northern Bahamas last month, it destroyed homes and lives, and it shattered the local economy. As the recovery from the storm continues, business owners in the area worst hit - Abaco - are debating how to rebuild and if it even makes sense to do so. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Driving up Front Street along the water in Marsh Harbour, the head of the chamber of commerce, Ken Hutton, points to the various piles of rubble and recounts what they used to be.

I mean, were there shops in, like, these empty lots...

KEN HUTTON: Yeah.

BEAUBIEN: ...That we're looking at over here?

HUTTON: This used to be a big liquor store - flattened with a boat on top. That was a marina down there, a repair place. This was a print shop here, a real estate agent. I mean, it's just - it literally is like a bomb went off.

BEAUBIEN: The second story of a seaside restaurant sits more than a hundred yards inland. Some businesses weren't just turned to piles of debris; they're simply gone.

HUTTON: This was a little business my 25-year-old daughter had called Calypso Coffee.

BEAUBIEN: The entire front of the shop is ripped away, and the wooden building leans precariously towards the street.

HUTTON: Now my daughter is in Nassau. She's got no job. She's got a little 5-year-old boy, who is the light of my life. But she's got nowhere to go.

BEAUBIEN: What she does have is thousands of dollars in debt from a business that now lies in ruins.

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BEAUBIEN: Away from what used to be the commercial and tourist waterfront, Michael Jones is one of the only businesses that's up and running around Marsh Harbour. And he's doing it without a roof. Jones is the owner of Abaco Battery and Tires, a combination laundromat, convenience store, gas station and tire repair shop.

MICHAEL JONES: We are hoping that we can salvage some of the equipment and get back up and running.

BEAUBIEN: Jones is doing a brisk business fixing flat tires from all the hurricane debris. He's also brought in a mobile fuel tank to sell gasoline. A month after Dorian, there's still no electricity or running water. His current operation runs off a noisy portable generator. Jones says his two biggest problems right now are labor - because so many people have left - and a lack of supplies to outfit his shop.

JONES: We're looking at bringing in equipment. I know that, you know, a lot of the shipping companies are really backed up with a lot of freight because a lot of people are bringing in stuff.

BEAUBIEN: Other shop owners aren't so confident of what their future holds. Troy Sims built up a solid business on Abaco as a locksmith before Hurricane Dorian. He's just made a new set of keys for a minivan that's sitting in a pile of debris near downtown. And now he's rushing to pick the lock of a car someone left at the airport when they evacuated. Sims is incredibly busy right now.

TROY SIMS: Mostly opening safes and making keys for cars. Lots of safes are being burglarized. And the owners can't get into them, or the saltwater has just corroded everything they can't get it open anyway.

BEAUBIEN: But he can see that this boom in post-storm business isn't going to last. So many of the former residents of Abaco are gone to Nassau, to other islands or to the U.S. He's not sure that weeks from now he'll have enough work.

JONES: There's not a lot of buildings left, so there's nothing to secure. The few cars that I make keys for will - you know, they'll run out eventually.

BEAUBIEN: He estimates he lost a quarter of a million dollars' worth of tools, stock and equipment that was not insured. Those monetary losses are only part of what he's grappling with as he weighs whether to stay on Abaco. His wife is in Nassau. One daughter has gone to Florida.

JONES: And my oldest daughter's in Canada - so very fractured right now.

BEAUBIEN: Friends have also left, so it's not just his business that's in limbo. It's his whole life.

JONES: My life will not be the same as it was prior to the storm, so it might be better. You don't know. I'm still alive. A lot of people don't have that. But it's still 30 years of your life has just been erased, almost. And now you have to start over. And that's pretty hard for a lot of people.

BEAUBIEN: And he wonders, where does he go from here? - which is a question that a lot of people right now are still trying to figure out.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Marsh Harbour, the Bahamas.

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