Bahamians in Bradenton worry about family as they organize hurricane relief efforts

Bradenton resident Daphney Towns, a native of Nassau in the Bahamas, still didn’t know as of Tuesday afternoon if relatives who live on the Abaco Islands were OK as Hurricane Dorian finally pulled away from the Bahamas. Others were accounted for thanks only to social media.

Massive blackouts in Freeport, the Abaco Islands and Nassau have made it difficult to reach family and friends.

“It became so nerve-wracking when we got messages that there were casualties and you are not hearing from your family,” Towns said. “Oh my God, is it one of them?”

Towns, who is president of Oaktree Community Outreach, and others in her ministry network decided to take to social media, posting photos and names of those they couldn’t reach.

Social media provided a lot of comfort.

People began responding to the posts with messages like, “I saw them. They are in a shelter and they are good. They are OK but they have no way of charging their phones.”

Hurricane Dorian made landfall over the Abaco Islands on Sunday as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts of more than 220 mph. It then crawled towards Grand Bahama Island, before stalling for about a day and half and causing catastrophic damage. Some homes are flooded out while others have been demolished, forcing many residents to seek shelter as the storm continued to pound the islands.

The past three days for many native Bahamians like Towns have been restless, filled with unbelievable images from their now unrecognizable native home.

“People are not sleeping. I think I’ve slept maybe six hours in the last three days,” Towns said.

Instead of sleep, she spends all hours of the day and night talking to those family members she can reach, answering text messages, looking at photos and watching videos sent to her and praying.

Towns has been participating in around the clock prayer meetings. Those online prayer meetings have included local residents, including other Bahamian natives, and some pastors in Nassau who still have internet access.

Faith is what keeps Towns and others going.

“One thing about Bahamians when they say prayer meeting, they are praying from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” Towns said. “We are going to continue to pray until this thing is dismantled.”

Even though she moved away as an adult and visits frequently, Towns said she cannot recognize the location of the photos or videos family and friends have sent her. Some images have shown sharks swimming down the street or into homes, sending those residents to run onto cabinets or their roofs to escape.

But like others, Towns is already beginning relief efforts. Through Oaktree Community Outreach, she is collecting donations she hopes to take to the islands as soon as it is safe to travel.

“We don’t only want to just take supplies down there because what’s going to happen, is after the freebies are gone, the shops will have made no money and they’re going to be closed so we are going to have to shop with local vendors as well to keep business and the economy going,” Towns explained.

Towns wants to make sure to get the money into the right hands so she is working with pastors who she regularly networks with. The non-profit already has a CashApp account set-up since they have been doing ministry work for years, she said.

There are still some businesses standing in Nassau, but many have been wiped out in the Abacos and many that will have to be rebuilt in Freeport.

Dondre Hall, owner of Fritter King, Bahamian Cuisine and BBQ in Bradenton, has not heard from his family since about 5 p.m. on Monday, he said late Tuesday morning.

“Last we got, everybody was headed toward the churches that were being used as shelters because they are on high points on the island

The Freeport native still has a lot of family on Grand Bahamas, including his grandparents, father, uncles, aunts and cousins.

When he last heard from his father, he was waiting for someone to rescue him from his home where the water was already chest-high. His aunt and uncle’s home was just on the brink of approaching flood waters.

The water was rising quickly, he said they told him.

“But everybody was still in good spirits,” Hall said.

People were helping other as they tried to escape flooded homes to seek shelter.

As he waits faithfully to hear from his family, Hall is working to gather supplies and asks anyone with a boat willing to take a trip to contact him through his business, Fitter King, or Christian Faith Church, 705 Ninth St. E., Bradenton, which he is working with to organize relief efforts.

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Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.