Bahamas Tropical Weather

Extensive damage and destruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is seen in Abaco, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The storm’s devastation has come into sharper focus as the death toll climbed to 20 and many people emerged from shelters to check on their homes. Gonzalo Gaudenzi/AP

Charleston got lucky that Hurricane Dorian skirted along the Carolina coast with minimal damage to the Palmetto State.

The Bahamas have been reduced to shambles by the Category 5 storm. 

But a charitable spirit has risen out of the Holy City. As the Bahamas deal with the overwhelming damage, 45 dead residents and more than 70,000 islanders without power, numerous volunteer organizations, businesses and even reality-TV celebrities are rallying to send supplies, money and volunteers to help the devastated islands. 

Some Charleston residents, such as Jessica Watkins, heard about the damage directly from family members who lived on the islands. 

Watkins' two aunts and her cousin had their homes on the Abaco Islands leveled by Dorian's winds. Her family couldn't escape in time and her aunts were forced to stay in a hotel as the winds barreled over them.

The roof began to get ripped off by the howling squalls, Watkins recalled one of her aunts telling her. If a hotel employee hadn't shoved her family member in a maintenance closet at the last minute, she may have not made it. Her mother and father-in-law were also affected, and had flooding in their Freeport homes.

She was overjoyed that everyone survived. 

"The aftermath has been a total shock to everyone involved,”  Watkins said. “Their homes, their vehicles destroyed, nothing to salvage at all.” 

Watkins, an employee with Charleston software company Blackbaud, was stunned to find out that her coworkers started a Just Giving campaign for her family. As of Monday afternoon, they had raised $2,000 of a $10,000 goal to help her family get back on their feet. 

Dorian's impact on the Bahamas has forced some local nonprofits, like Charleston-based Southeast Rescue and Relief, to change their approach. 

Providing relief to overseas regions is no small task, Southeast Rescue Administrator Rob Tingman said. The organization decided to scope out the islands before sending additional volunteers and sent some star power as their inaugural scout. 

Pawleys Island fisherman-turned "Master Chef" contestant Jamie Hough made his way to Hope Town early this week to begin surveying the damage. In addition to preparing some meals, he has been relaying the critical supplies that are needed in the area back to the Charleston nonprofit. 

"Hope Town is devastated," Tingman said. “Right now we’re trying to get heavy equipment on to barges to get them over to those areas. But there’s a lot of red tape.”

North Charleston-headquartered Water Mission is also getting involved. The 20-foot surge from the storm as well as 185 mph winds resulted in complete destruction of the island's stored-water supplies. The nonprofit sent shipments of water treatment kits and generators by boat and plane to some of the hardest hit areas, including Marsh Harbor, Elbow Cay and Green Turtle Cay.

"Water Mission is working with partners and local municipalities to mobilize a safe water system as quickly as possible. Given the lack of freshwater sources, reverse osmosis is the only guaranteed option to provide access to safe water,” said George Greene IV, president of Water Missions.

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.

Additional resources are being gathered and shipped by the Mediterranean Shipping Co. in Charleston. The worldwide shipping company is gathering supplies at their Mount Pleasant offices to ship out to the Bahamas.

Huk Gear, a fishing equipment outfitter based in Charleston, also sent off a shipment of 10,000 pairs of shoes to the island Monday. 

Federal government involvement on the island has been heavy since the end of the hurricane. 

So far, the Coast Guard said it has rescued a total of 290 people in the northern Bahamas following the hurricane, according to The Associated Press. Bahamaian officials banned non-aid flights over Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands. The country's National Emergency Management Agency also threatened to revoke flight permission from any pilots charging fees to evacuate people from the islands.

The United Nations said 8 tons of food supplies were on the way by ship. Some 14,700 ready-to-eat meals as well as logistical and telecommunications equipment are being delivered, AP reported. 

Watkins said seeing all the aid to her family and the Bahamas has brought her comfort, but there is still so much work to be done. 

“My family has been through many, many hurricanes on the island, but they’ve seen nothing like this,” Watkins said. "They need everything down there." 

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5715. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly reports on crime, growth and development as well as military issues in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Previously, he was a reporter at the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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