Water treatment

Water Mission engineer Jake Voss sets up a water-storage unit in the Bahamas. Provided/Water Mission

As news of Hurricane Dorian's devastation in the Bahamas kept rolling in, George Greene IV, president of Charleston-based international humanitarian group Water Mission, knew the nonprofit's water-treatment systems could be crucial for disaster relief.

That didn't make the decision easy — it required returning to the place where his mother Molly Greene, Water Mission's co-founder, died two months ago as a result of an accidental drowning.

"It's been a fairly tumultuous two months for us," Greene said. "Getting back into that area has been a bit of an open wound."

Water Mission deployed 10 people to the Bahamas, including four volunteers from Mount Pleasant Waterworks. Two teams, one in capital city Nassau and one in Treasure Cay, are working to restore clean water sources and get sewage systems back online. Many Bahamians collect rainwater or use wells for their freshwater needs, but the 20-foot storm surge caused by Dorian contaminated many of these sources with seawater.

"Water in a disaster is the No. 1 need," Greene said. Water Mission's reverse osmosis systems, which staffers and volunteers are setting up across the Bahamas, can filter out contaminants and restore fresh drinking water.

Bahamas disaster relief

The Water Mission team sets up a reverse osmosis water system in Treasure Cay, Bahamas, to give the community access to safe water. Provided/Water Mission

So far, he's heard from aid workers and volunteers that the damage in the Bahamas is some of the worse they've seen.

"The feedback is that it looks like an atomic bomb went off," Greene said. He said the Water Mission team could stay in the Bahamas for at least a year to help communities rebuild.

Beyond his own family's connections to the Bahamas, Greene has seen many strong ties between Charleston and the area, which he said dates back to loyalists leaving Charleston during the Revolutionary War.

"It's almost like a sister community to the Lowcountry," he said.

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.

In the Bahamas, Craig Williams, Water Mission's Emergency Response manager, said they're facing challenges due to the lack of aid infrastructure. The team may run out of fuel as soon as this weekend, a problem faced by many aid groups in the area. So far, Water Mission has set up four reverse osmosis machines to clean water, but it's been trickier than usual to get clean water to the people who need it.

Williams said evacuees are ready to start restoring their communities. "Their attitude is, give us power, give us water, and we'll come back and rebuild," he said.

For their relief efforts, every dollar and volunteer counts, Williams said. Water Mission's partnerships with Mount Pleasant Waterworks, Charleston Water System and other Charleston-area collaborators made the trip possible, despite challenges arising from Charleston experiencing its own effects from the storm.

When Water Mission asked Mount Pleasant Waterworks to put together a team of volunteers, Operations Manager Allan Clum said the first thought was, "We have to do something." They had previously sent volunteers to help after Hurricane Katrina and other severe storms.

"We're water professionals, so it was an easy decision," Clum said. Despite the four volunteers experiencing rough living conditions and difficult terrain, "they all feel like they're really doing what they're meant to do," he said. 

Fleming Smith covers breaking news for the Charleston area. A native Georgian, she previously covered breaking news and features for The Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.