After Hurricane Dorian: locally – and across the Anglican Communion – the Church responds

23 September 2019

The devastation of Marsh Harbour, Abaco caused by Hurricane Dorian. UN photo/OCHA/Mark Garten.

“Abaco, Grand Bahama and the whole Bahamas will not be the same for a long time. There are years of healing, settling and resettling, rebuilding and redevelopment before us. Entire local economies have to be rebuilt. However, right now the pain and anguish and suffering are great, for all of us. There are people of all ages who have been traumatized severely. We will all need ongoing love, counselling and support”. So writes the Rt Revd. Laish Boyd, Bishop of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands.

From 1st to 3rd September, Hurricane Dorian made its slow and deadly way through the Bahamas, with 185 mph winds and gusts of 220 mph. This, together with storm surges of 18-23 feet above sea level, brought devastation to the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. The death toll officially stands at 52, but with over 1,300 people still unaccounted for, this is expected to rise. Thousands have been left homeless. People in informal settlements are particularly vulnerable, as highlighted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his statement below.

The devastation in the densely-populated area of down town Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Red dots indicate destroyed buildings, orange dots damaged ones. Source: Reliefweb.

The view from the ground

Before, during and after the hurricane, the Anglican Alliance has been in touch with the Rt. Revd. Laish Boyd, Bishop of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, and others in the Bahamas. We remain in close contact as the Anglican Church in the Bahamas assesses and responds to the devastation.

On 18th September, Bishop Boyd wrote, “Dorian was a monster storm, unprecedented, which visited historic tragedy on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama: catastrophic devastation such as has never before been seen or imagined in these parts. We could not foresee the extensive damage to homes, businesses, landscape, infrastructure and crops. No amount of preparation can withstand winds in excess of [hurricane] category 5.”

Bishop Boyd continued, “The most heart-breaking aspect of it all is the humanitarian crises: people disrupted, devastated, homeless; some persons lost all their possessions, and their loved ones; some have loved ones unaccounted for, and some needed to evacuate. It is horrific, unbearable suffering that will not go away quickly.  …This tragedy wounds and devastates all of us. We feel distraught, heart ached, angry, depressed and despairing.

“Above all we must remember the words in Psalms 46:1-3 ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.’ These words must be our motto at a time like this. The God who has brought us this far is the God we must trust to carry us further…through this aftermath, to accomplish restored lives and communities.”

Bishop Boyd has also spoken out to urge people to be patient with the response, to appreciate that the current situation is one that could not have been predicted, that local capacity has understandably been overwhelmed, and that the government and other agencies are working hard for the good of those affected. Janice Proud, the Anglican Alliance’s Disaster Response and Resilience Manager echoes Bishop Boyd’s sentiments saying, “Having worked in my current role for six years, I have so often seen the government and other leaders chastised for lack of action, delays and the like, when local capacity was totally overwhelmed and they were doing what they could under challenging conditions. So I was really pleased to see Bishop Boyd speaking out to try and calm the situation. Social media is certainly adding pressure to the current situation. It is so hard when things are difficult for individuals, for them to understand that the situation might be even worse for others, and that agencies will need to prioritize them”.

Clifton Nedd, the Anglican Alliance’s Caribbean facilitator writes, “We are deeply saddened by the devastating loss of life and property. We urge all to continue to pray for the people of the Bahamas and their leaders, who have a very difficult task ahead. We also urge everyone to support appeals to assist the recovery process (see links below). There are still two months of the hurricane season left and there is much anxiety about further storms.” As we write, tropical storm Karen is bringing flooding and damage to Trinidad and Tobago and threatening Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Detailed view of ruined belongings after the mass destruction in Marsh Harbour. UN photo/OCHA/Mark Garten.

How is the local church responding?

Bishop Boyd has made several visits to the affected areas and has convened an advisory council. It will take time for the Church to complete the assessments of the situation and plan detailed proposals for their initial and longer-term responses. However, the Anglican Church is used to being at the forefront of recovery efforts after hurricanes. It is the widest network in the Bahamas after the government and is trusted by national and international governments and private sector agencies to distribute relief and disseminate information.

At the moment, the Church has a vital role to play simply by being there, offering pastoral care. Church services have resumed on both islands, bringing some normality to people. Churches are also providing space for relief supplies, with churches worshipping ecumenically to enable churches to be used in this way. St Chad’s Church in Fox Town on Abaco is now serving as the local school since the school building was destroyed.

In an update received on 24 September, Bishop Boyd shared further poignant details of ways churches are responding to the impacts of the hurricane. He was also able to give more detailed information about the ways they were severely affected themselves: church members have lost children, spouses and other close relatives; dozens of families across different churches have lost everything; homes, rectories, churches and church halls (and/or their contents) have been destroyed and there has been extensive flooding to buildings that did survive. In the worst affected places on Abaco, such as Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay, areas are reported to be deserted as residents have evacuated. Elsewhere, churches are playing vital roles in responding, even though they have been dreadfully affected themselves. St Jude’s Church, Smith Point on Grand Bahama, for example, where 39 families lost their homes, has a feeding programme that is feeding 500 people each day from across the community. At St Stephen’s Church at Eight Mile Rock on Grand Bahama, the parish hall has housed relief workers since the hurricane and the parish is delivering supplies and cooked food to people in the surrounding area.  Ascension Church in Lucaya on Grand Bahama, where 25 members lost everything, sheltered 400 people in their parish hall during the storm and continues to shelter people who lost their homes. Their feeding program feeds 400 people daily from across the community. Similarly, the Good Shepherd Church on Pinder’s Point on Grand Bahama has a feeding programme that feeds 400 people daily and delivers food and goods to people’s homes.

Connecting in support and solidarity

A recent conference call brought together: Bishop Laish Boyd, Bishop of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands; Nagulan Nesiah – Senior Program Officer for Disaster Response at Episcopal Relief & Development; Clifton Nedd – the Anglican Alliance’s Caribbean facilitator; and Janice Proud – the Anglican Alliance’s Disaster Response and Resilience Manager. As well as hearing from Bishop Boyd about the situation on the ground, offers from Anglican partners across the Communion to support local responses were shared.

Nagulan Nesiah reported that Episcopal Relief & Development has had strong support from churches across the United States to help in the response to Hurricane Dorian. The Canadian Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is also contributing $15,000 to their appeal. The decision on how to use funding to best effect will be made locally by the bishop and his advisory council and we will update this story as we hear more. One suggestion is to employ one or two short-term emergency response officers to assist clergy and laity as they initiate longer-term recovery plans. These officers would assist with assessments, programme design, proposal writing, report writing, managing budgets, networking with government and other stakeholders, and communicating with donors, enabling and freeing clergy to help carry out the programmes and offer pastoral support, a key role for the Church.

Other Anglican dioceses within the Caribbean who live with similar threats have also offered solidarity. Many churches are holding collections to send to the diocese. There has even been an offer from the Diocese of Puerto Rico to send medical supplies and personnel.

In a recent blog written in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, Rob Radtke – the President & CEO of Episcopal Relief & Development – reflected on how the Anglican Alliance and partners such as Episcopal Relief & Development work together with the local church in times of disaster – and how valuable this is. His full blog is here and has been reproduced in part below. In it he talks about Partners in Response and Resilience (PiRR), a new accompaniment mechanism for on-the-ground support. Through PiRR, an experienced disaster response person from the region, who has been through something similar, is deployed to accompany the local church in the aftermath of a disaster, offering their experience and expertise, and providing pastoral support to staff.

How can we respond?

The following message was shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury on September 13th and includes a call for financial support:

Wherever you are in the world, please keep praying for the people of the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian – and please read to the end of this post and consider supporting the urgent appeals for help.

The hurricane has caused destruction and tragedy in communities across these islands. We now know that at least 50 people have died and that number is expected to rise as 2,500 are still missing. Many more are bereaved, injured and traumatised.

Meanwhile thousands of people have been evacuated, and many of the poorest and most vulnerable – who live in informal settlements – have seen their homes completely destroyed.

Bishop Laish Boyd, the Anglican bishop in the Bahamas, has written to tell me that this hurricane has been a historic tragedy for these islands. The damage has been catastrophic.

The human impact has been heart-breaking. Worse than has ever been seen or imagined in those parts.

The relationship between people and the sea in the Bahamas is intimate. Many people make their living from fishing. This hurricane has seen a friend become an enemy.

I want to say to the people of the Bahamas, and to the Anglican church there: we are with you in prayer and solidarity. We mourn with you and we lament with you.

But as Christians we are never without hope, because we worship the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And we are never powerless, because the Spirit of God shows us how to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

As we hold the people of Bahamas in our hearts before God, our prayers commit us to acting with the love and compassion of Christ.

So, please pray – and please consider supporting these urgent appeals to support the Diocese of the Bahamas and partners as they minister to their people:…/hurricane-dorian-rapid-response-…/

Finally, as you pray, you could remember these words of Jesus Christ:

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me” (Matthew 25:35-36)

The Anglican Alliance and Episcopal Relief and Development: working together for lasting change in times of disaster

The following extract from Rob Radtke’s blog (full text here) describes the convening role the Anglican Alliance plays after a disaster and its value to the Communion.

“Perhaps it goes without saying, but disasters produce chaos.

“In times of disaster and with all the best of intentions in the world, people mobilize and seek to assist the local diocese where a disaster occurs, much as we are doing for the Bahamas.

“In the past, this sometimes led to further chaos—multiple reporting requirements, miscommunication about needs, double funding of some needs and critical gaps in other places. It became clear that we were just creating more confusion and heavier burdens on Church partners already overwhelmed by the disaster itself.

“So, here’s where the Anglican Alliance comes into the picture.

“In the immediate aftermath of a disaster the Alliance convenes all of the major players working on relief and development across the Communion to address the disaster in a collaborative and coordinated way. The impacted diocese has one point of contact at the Alliance (rather than multiple points of contact around the world) and works with a support team to create a comprehensive proposal that addresses the most urgent priorities as much as possible.

“The agencies and others who want to help, then take that proposal, and cooperate to fund it to the extent we can. Episcopal Relief & Development focuses on funding humanitarian needs while others may focus on funding church infrastructure needs.

“Often there is a lead agency to oversee the response and foster collaboration with other Anglican agencies. In the case of the Bahamas, Episcopal Relief & Development is likely to be the lead agency, given our proximity to the Bahamas and our experience.

“Episcopal Relief & Development will also support the deployment of one of our Partners in Resilience and Response (someone from elsewhere in the Communion, in this case from within the region, who through experience and training is equipped in disaster management) to the Bahamas to help the diocese develop its strategy. This is a new aspect of our international disaster response and we hope that it will help the diocese serve the needs of the most vulnerable more effectively and efficiently.

“It has been invaluable to have the Alliance as the single point of contact and as a platform for collaboration in the Anglican Communion at these difficult times. The Alliance helps to clarify communication and identify needs quickly so that we can all do what we want to do: help those most in need.

“The Anglican Alliance may not be one of the official instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion, but is sure feels like that when the chips are down.”

The Anglican Alliance connects, equips and inspires the worldwide Anglican family to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation. We provide a convening platform for Anglican churches and agencies to work together in the aftermath of disaster. Building partnerships for response and resilience is an increasingly important part of our work. For more, see here.