Cat Island: Emergency Relief Trip

By Gary Smith, Sarasota Yacht & Ship

On August 28th, I got in contact with Bahamas Habitat, a non-profit that supports housing & disaster relief work in the Bahamas.  The weekend was a blur of activity for the volunteer crew.  Six planes were flying over the weekend to some of the hardest hit areas of the Bahamas.  Since the hurricane, three young volunteers organized by Cameron King from the Bahamas Habitat set up a base of operations at Banyan at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport where they obtained a hangar to collect food goods and supplies.

Upon arrival in Fort Lauderdale, the team from Bahamas Habitat were in search of goods. They had planes but nothing to deliver. Myself and the other pilots knew we had to act fast. We hit nearby stores and were able to collect some much needed items. Support from the Florida Yacht Brokers Association helped to move a great deal of items that we hoped would provide the folks in the out islands immediate relief until the supply ships can make their way south. I cannot thank FYBA enough for their generosity.

We quickly loaded and prepped our planes to head south. It’s really amazing how much cargo a small plane will hold with all seats removed and no passengers. My plane was packed full with tarps for roofs, pop top can goods and other non-perishable foods, water, flashlights, candles, linens and towels (as most were ruined in flood cleanup).

I was informed that the residents of Cat Island had yet to receive any assistance since the storm. And because many areas needed electricity to pump water, they were going without.  The two tiny stores on the island were closed down as they had no goods for the shelves.  Without immediate access to water, food (and shelter for many) and no incoming assistance, the residents of Cat Island were in dire straights.

Upon arrival on the island, I noticed the locals react differently to our aid than expected. Some seemed surprised that we come to provide assistance and some didn’t seem to anticipate or expect any help. But everyone was so appreciative when it arrived.

Irene had damaged many roofs and caused significant flood damage. Although there was considerable damage, the island was better off than I expected as the electrical poles were mostly in tact and most houses were repairable. The island may get power back in a matter of weeks instead of months. However, this is a far better outcome than the islands further south. I am told that 70% of the homes on Auckland Island were destroyed. The same reports are also coming in on islands like Rum, Conception, etc.

Thanks to the generosity of FYBA, the volunteers of Bahamas Habitat and the other pilots, we were able to provide short-term relief to many on Cat Island, but there were so many more we did not reach. The road back to recovery and stability will be a long one for many, but we will stand by our friends in the Bahamas. I sincerely ask you do the same through a monetary donation or supplies. With your help our next trip down will have a greater impact in helping these victims rebuild their lives.


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